With upscale chefs homing in on obsessively precise microregions of Italy, modern Italian has become Boston’s fuss food ("Abruzzese tonight, sweetie?"). But North Enders are sitting on the antidote: homespun Italian-American joints, where tomato sauce is "gravy" and the house red pairs with everything. One caveat: Choose carefully, or you’re as likely to end up with leaden chicken parm as a beloved family recipe.
On an eerily quiet block near North Station, Massimino’s (207 Endicott St., 617-523-5959) merits seeking out, if only for the ever changing antipasto, which typically includes a mountain of cheeses, cured Italian salumi, and balsamic-dressed greens. Your server will probably rattle off at least a dozen specials, but if you want a safe play, the traditional, lemony veal saltimbocca ($13) always satisfies.
At the livelier Antico Forno (93 Salem St., 617-723-6733), a bowl of ribollita ($7.50)—a rustic Tuscan bread soup—and a shared arugula pizza Amalfitana ($13), charred in the fiery brick oven, make a fine meal. Leave room for the boozy tiramisu ($6).
Wise diners at Pagliuca’s (14 Parmenter St., 617-367-1504) skip the antipasto
—an uninspired arrangement of pickled vegetables, iceberg lettuce, and deli meat—and go right for the worthy chicken Campagna ($21), a house specialty served with roasted peppers and potatoes.
The pappardelle e melanzane ($15.95) at La Summa (30 Fleet St., 617-523-9503), with eggplant and wide ribbons of handmade pasta, tastes as if Nonna made it; judging by the family photos at the entrance, we’re pretty sure she did.
The soul-warming ricotta-stuffed eggplant rollatine ($16) and linguine with meatballs ($13) at Mother Anna’s (211 Hanover St., 617-523-8496) epitomize an old-school Italian truth: Leftovers taste even better.