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A neighbourhood guide to the North End of Boston
Known by many as Little Italy, Boston’s North End is a cluster of cafes, pastry shops and traditional tavernas huddled together on winding streets and tucked into cobbled courtyards. Hanover Street lies at its heart, but the neighbourhood’s European heritage – introduced by Italian immigrants in the 20th century – can be seen everywhere you look. Family-run restaurants rub shoulders with arts venues and parks, and annual feasts bring life to the streets during the summer months. To discover the neighbourhood’s hidden corners, follow our guide to the North End of Boston.
Food is undoubtedly this neighbourhood’s specialty, so a visit to the North End wouldn’t be complete without a meal at one of its traditional Italian restaurants. Hanover Street is home to several dining spots, including Giacomo’s, a tiny but incredibly popular Italian eatery where eager customers spill out onto the streets, waiting to indulge in one of its renowned pasta dishes. Tucked down a quiet side-road, Trattoria di Monica puts a similar emphasis on home cooking, making all of its pasta by hand and serving dishes like roasted veal over green fettuccini alongside a mouth-watering selection of antipasti.
For satisfying, generous portions and a warm family atmosphere, head to La Famiglia Girogios on Salem Street, where you’ll find chicken and pasta dishes accompanied by just about any Italian sauce you can think of. The area isn’t short of pizza options either; try Regina Pizzeria, where brick oven pizzas bursting with flavour are served in a traditional setting that takes you straight to the heart of quintessential Italia.
The neighbourhood also has plenty to offer in the way of fine dining, and Mamma Maria is among the best, serving exceptional, delicately presented seasonal dishes. Nearby, Lucca throws an innovative spin on Northern Italian dishes in a modern, sleek environment – think granite walls and candlelit tables.
Veering further away from traditional North End cuisine is Prezza, where chefs fuse Italian food with other Mediterranean influences to create unique, flavourful dishes; try the wood-grilled quail with bacon and red wine lentils. Head to Quattro for the very best of local restaurateur Frank DePasquale’s dishes – handpicked from the menus at his various restaurants – including rotisserie meat, pizzas smothered in warm melted cheese and bread made fresh at nearby Bricco Panetteria.
When it comes to seafood, Neptune Oyster should be top on your list. Try its award-winning lobster roll or sample delicacies from the raw bar as you sit back and relax in its contemporary, stylish interior.
Coffee shops and bakeries
The North End wouldn’t be Little Italy without its many artisanal coffee shops. Head to Caffe Paradiso on Hanover Street for mouth-watering gelatos, delicious pastries and specialty coffees in cosy surroundings. Further down the road is Caffe Vittoria, another local favourite that has been serving its coffees, liqueurs and Italian sweets since 1929. Award-winning coffee outlet Thinking Cup, which you’ll find dotted throughout Boston, has its roots here too, and makes for a good morning stop for its breakfast burritos, bagels, sourdough sandwiches and cakes.
Over on Causeway Street, Equal Exchange Coffee is the neighbourhood go-to for organic, fair-trade coffees, teas and hot chocolates, and ingredients that are all locally sourced. The café works closely with farmers from across the world and occasionally holds talks from them on the premises, alongside tasting sessions run by the roasting staff.
For freshly baked, traditional Italian delicacies still warm from the oven, try Mike’s Pastry, where the cannoli – filled to bursting with Amaretto, Oreo or yellow cream cannolo – are exquisite. Visit the Modern Pastry Shop for homemade tiramisu, cookies and Boston cream cupcakes, and then wander over to Salem Street to call into Polcari’s Coffee. A traditional corner shop decked out in charming old-world style, the coffee shop sells an array of freshly ground coffee, spices and sweet treats you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Pubs and bars
Although the drinking scene in the North End is mainly based around its tavernas, there are a growing number of contemporary cocktail bars, which attract a young, cool crowd from across the city. Ward 8, named after Boston’s iconic whiskey-based mix, offers an extensive list of carefully curated drinks, while The Living Room attracts local DJs and serves its destination-worthy tiramisu martini in a laid-back, elegant environment.
For a quieter, more traditional after-dinner drink, descend the stairs to Stanza Dei Sigari beneath Caffe Vittoria. The speakeasy-turned-cigar parlour has a firm list of devotees and traditional décor that will take you back to bygone days. Right on the edge of the North End sits Bell-in-Hand, America’s oldest tavern and the go-to for live music and ale, alongside a number of bars, such as Vito’s, for the budding sports fans.
Shopping, culture and festivals
Hanover Street and the roads running off of it are scattered with independent boutiques, making the area a haven for shoppers. Shake the Tree on Salem Street offers an eclectic range of clothing, bags, jewellery and gifts, as well as occasional showcases by local designers. Visit Hanover Street’s In-jean-ius to browse its extensive collection of denim, and while you’re there make a stop at LIT Boutique, which sells shoes, handbags, accessories and clothes from a variety of designers.
It’s in summer, however, that the neighbourhood really comes to life, with a number of festivals taking place from June onwards to honour Italy’s patron saints. One of the biggest is the Fisherman’s Feast, a four-day extravaganza in August, which features processions, performances and an abundance of culinary offerings. Saint Anthony’s Feast follows shortly after, with parades, contests, religious services and Italian street food stalls selling freshly made arancini, cannoli and gelato. A daylong procession marks the festival’s pinnacle; accompanied by marching bands, floats and a colourful shower of confetti, this parade perfectly sums up the sense of spirit, tradition and culture that pervades the North End of Boston year-round.
Written by Laura French