Thanks to most rom-coms and Billy Joel songs, there’s a lot of pressure on Italian restaurants to be quaint and romantic places, where candlelight flickers on the faces of a couple who just broke-up, made-up, and got engaged on the same night. Based on the stereotype, the kitchen should be staffed by a multi-generational family who sometimes throw wooden spoons at each other. And a couple of dogs eating spaghetti in the back alley would be nice.
We can’t promise that you’ll find those things at the 14 spots on this guide, but we can promise that you’ll find some great food. Come to these places with the confidence that, even if your night doesn’t end under the moonlight as a Sinatra song plays, it’ll end with you walking-off some excellent pasta and trying to figure out when you can go back again.
Coppa is close to being the perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant. In the summer, you can post up at a shaded sidewalk table on a quiet South End corner. And its menu of small plates and pizza changes enough to keep you on your toes. Make your way here for dinner and have the spaghetti carbonara with a glass of red.
Before you lie to a potential employer about your ability to multitask, remember this: you’re better off doing just a few things and being great at them than trying to do it all. SRV in the South End is an Italian restaurant that doesn’t bother with pizza or large protein entrees. It just focuses on pasta and small plates, and it does them all really, really well. There’s a trout crudo, a spinach corzetti, and a lobster risotto that isn’t too rich to finish. It’s all good and it’s served in a big comfortable space that has outdoor seating, light fixtures made of crystal decanters, and a wine bar.
Giulia on the edge of Porter Square has a “pasta table” by the kitchen. You can book it for a big group and then eat a family-style pasta meal that the kitchen staff spent all day making by hand. But even if your dream isn’t to eat a meal at a table where you might need to spend the night wiping flour from your sleeves, you should get here anyway, because it’s the type of intimate spot that you’ll want to come to every time you’re in the mood for “a nice little Italian place.” You might have trouble deciding between all the different pasta options, but you can take solace in the fact that there are no bad choices here. Just know that you’ll have to make reservations at least a month in advance.
La Morra in Brookline is down the street from a number of hospitals, so it’s not unusual to be intermittently serenaded by ambulances while you’re having a meal here. But that white noise will easily be drowned out by some outstanding food. The panzanella and wood grilled bruschetta, in particular, are the perfect negroni companions – and their tagliatelle bolognese is one of the city’s best. If you end your night with sorbet, donut holes, and a digestif, there’s always the hope that a nice ambulance driver could give you a ride home.
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One of the most underrated aspects of the Italian meal is the digestivo. There you are, looking around to see if anyone will notice you loosening your belt and feeling reluctant to head back to your place, when all of a sudden, another drink appears. And what a pretty glass it comes in. Pammy’s on the edge of Harvard Square has an extensive list of these digestifs, which is nice, because with a fireplace and a menu of things like taglierini with oxtail and mussels with squid ink arancini, you won’t want to leave any time soon.
Fat Hen is usually a place you can walk into on any weeknight. You should take advantage of that, because the small spot out in East Somerville has a tiny but outstanding menu of appetizers, small-plate pastas, branzino, and rib eye. The seasonal agnolotti is our go-to second course on the nightly $65 four-course prix-fixe meal here.
Mida has a strong menu of things like Sicilian mussels with r oasted tomato pesto and calabrian chili , and it’s in a cool space where you’ll happily spend a few hours before going back to an apartment that is, sadly, entirely bereft of teardrop lamps, comfortable leather booths, and incredible pasta dishes like their classic carbonara.
If you’re one of those people who looks at a map and pictures “here be dragons” written over any neighborhood the T doesn’t reach, then you’re missing out on one of the city’s best Italian restaurants in Roslindale Square. Delfino is a tiny spot that makes big plates of things like open-faced lobster ravioli and a veal saltimbocca that bleeds cheese like a wounded Frenchman. It’s crowded just about every night, but you can usually walk-in.
Even though it’s so crowded, the North End is still plenty romantic thanks to its twisting streets, corner cafes, and the hourly reenactment of the make-out session Paul and Rachel Revere engaged in before he set off on his midnight ride. (OK, we may have made that last one up.) If you’re looking for a romantic North End night yourself, Prezza on Fleet Street is your best bet. It’s a white-tablecloth spot far from the tourists on Hanover, and with a menu of things like crispy shrimp with cherry pepper aioli and ricotta ravioli with roasted plum tomatoes, sausage, and black olives, you’ll be eating better than they do as well.
If you’re the kind of person who likes foods with bread, then the flavorless bruschetta at most Italian restaurants is probably pretty depressing. Thankfully, you can get the rosemary and onion foccacia with a choice of several spreads at Bar Mezzana – the eggplant with goat cheese and honey is particularly enjoyable. There’s also some great pasta, like the paccheri with lobster, green onion, and tomato, as well as a crudo list.
Sorellina in Back Bay is pricey. And with plush white chairs, glimmering surfaces, and lots of professional people drinking martinis, it also feels like a restaurant that the high-powered but unfulfilled career woman in a Hallmark movie would patronize (that is, just before she meets the hunky horse-trainer, moves out of the city, and spends long mornings casually brushing the coat of a horse named Honeysuckle). But if you don’t mind overhearing conversations about ETFs and mutual funds while you eat, it’s one of the better fine-dining Italian restaurants in the city. Save it for a special occasion and get the pappardelle bolognese.