Best North End Restaurants in Boston
253 Hanover St., 617-742-1276, arianorthend.com.
What do Melissa McCarthy, the Rock, Joey Kramer, and Marty Walsh have in common? They’ve all dined at this intimate second-floor restaurant, where first-time restaurateur Massimo Tiberi has pulled in a crowd of celebs big and…not so big (ciao, Kris Humphries) over the past four years. Maybe it’s his genuinely warm “Welcome to my house” greeting at the start of the meal. Maybe it’s the expert wine-pairing advice—a server-recommended nebbiolo was structured and sturdy, the ideal accompaniment to our fall-apart-tender osso buco. Or maybe it’s just the generous portions of better-than-average regional Italian fare.
For 24/7 Chicken-Parm Croissants
134 Salem St., 617-523-5601, bovabakeryboston.com.
Frequent turnover isn’t usually a good thing in the hospitality industry. But it has helped Bova’s Bakery—the tipsy college student’s go-to spot for a cream-filled lobster tail or cheese-and-meatball-stuffed arancini at 3 a.m.—stay in business for nearly a century. Three extended families, all descendants of founder George Bova, each run the always-open bakery for six months before handing it over for the next “turn” to manage.
For One-Stop Dining—and Shopping
241 Hanover St., 617-248-6800, bricco.com.
If you feel like you’re being taken care of by an entire Italian village when you dine at Frank DePasquale’s Hanover Street flagship, it’s because you are: The restaurant’s breads, fresh pastas, and imported meats are sourced from DePasquale’s own old-world panetteria and salumeria next door. His restaurant group, in fact, is a mini North End empire, with a new extended-stay pensione above Bricco and several other eateries dotting the neighborhood. But this modern neighborhood standby is still the one to beat for its well-executed menu of Italian staples—pillowy gnocchi baked with bufala mozzarella was a favorite—and classic steakhouse dishes.
For a Taste of the New North End
307 Hanover St., 617-742-0020, carmelinasboston.com.
At first blush, this stylish Sicilian-inspired restaurant, with its open kitchen, exposed brick, and retractable front walls for warmer months, feels like it might belong in the South End. But one spoonful of executive chef Damien DiPaola’s creative pasta dishes—from the tightly curled ribbons of fresh fusilli accented with pistachio pesto and a shock of vibrant ahi tuna to the impossibly rich four-mushroom baked rigatoni burnished with smoked mozzarella and bread crumbs—will bring you right back to Hanover Street.
For a No-Frills Feast
The Daily Catch
323 Hanover St., 617-523-8567, thedailycatch.com.
Not many restaurants with a $79 entrée (the lobster fra diavolo for two) can get away with serving wine in disposable cups, not accepting credit cards, and asking guests to tiptoe through the dishwashing station to get to the restroom. But the garlicky squid-ink pasta; golden, greaseless calamari; and surprisingly addictive monkfish Marsala at this 12-seat, family-run hole in the wall will make you quickly forget about those minor inconveniences. While there’s no dessert menu here ( who needs one when there are a half-dozen bakeries within walking distance?), at the end of a meal, you may find yourself lingering at the table, mesmerized by the one-man show in the open kitchen and the endless plates of seafood coming out hot and fast.
For Family-Style Food—and Ambiance
La Famiglia Giorgio’s
112 Salem St., 617-367-6711, lafamigliagiorgios.com.
“It might even be as good as my mom’s” is a sentiment echoed over and over again inside this cozy Salem Street brownstone, where the Giorgio family has been churning out gargantuan portions of red-sauce classics for nearly three decades. Favorites range from the irresistibly spicy frutti di mare with fresh fettuccine (worth the $3 upcharge) to the tender eggplant Parm with a bright marinara.
For the Bargain Hunter
355 Hanover St., 617-523-9026.
Passersby mutter, “Is it really worth the wait ?” to a legion of frozen devotees lined up outside this seafood and pasta spot for more than an hour—on a Tuesday night. Answer: most of the time, especially if you have a big appetite. The budget-friendly restaurant sates the hungry masses with piles of butter-saturated garlic bread and heaping portions of chicken Parm, served with $20 bottles of wine. At $60 for two (or more) diners, the oft-Instagrammed zuppa di pesce, a staggeringly large platter of linguine with lobster, shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams, mussels, and your choice of sauce, is the best deal under the restaurant’s tin ceiling—and possibly in the whole neighborhood.
For an Off-the-Beaten-Path Night Out
326 Commercial St., 857-277-1895, ilmoloboston.com.
For those who can’t, er, stomach the tourists and rose vendors clogging up Hanover’s sidewalks comes this North End newcomer, just a seven-minute stroll from the action but seemingly a world away. The dining room eschews the neighborhood’s traditional dark décor in favor of pearly glass tiles and marine blues and greens, creating a relaxed, contemporary ambiance for dinner with friends. Kick back with a creative cocktail—may we suggest the Sazerac spin with rum?—before tucking into seafood-focused plates like peel-and-eat prawns a la plancha; house-made pappardelle with buttery lobster and mushrooms; and tender cod loin with littlenecks, chorizo, and cannellini beans.
For Pre- and Post-Gaming
226 Hanover St., 617-742-9200, luccaboston.com.
Serious tipplers won’t be disappointed by the selection at Lucca, which offers an of-the-moment beverage menu—smoky negroni affumicato with mezcal; Mystic drafts; and a solid lineup of $5 craft-beer cans—alongside a top-notch cellar of Italian and Californian wines. The kitchen is open past midnight, so before or after the game, post up at the dining-friendly 20-seat bar for the signature P.E.I. mussels with spicy chorizo, or baked orecchiette with broccoli rabe and fontina—like a northern Italian take on mac ’n’ cheese.
For Occasion Dining
3 North Sq., 617-523-0077, mammamaria.com.
Its name may suggest red-sauce casual, but this North Square townhouse restaurant is quite the opposite, focusing on refined Italian fare: Beef carpaccio with arugula and capers is a lighter spin on the mayo-topped version developed at Harry’s Bar in Venice, while fresh pappardelle pasta is tossed in a hearty Tuscan-style rabbit ragu. The service and setting—including several chandeliered private dining areas, one of which seats just four—is white-tablecloth formal. It’s a style that’s falling out of fashion these days, but is still comforting to revisit every once in a while, especially when it gives Nonna a chance to break out her pearls.
For Pristine Seafood in a Sea of Pasta
63 Salem St., 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
Okay, so it’s not exactly Italian. But we’d be foolish to leave this Salem Street institution—with its sleek, brasserie-like interior, straight-from-the-water bivalves, and, yes, buttery, overstuffed lobster rolls—off a list of essential North End restaurants. While other spots have fallen on the sword of a good reputation—or long waits for a table—this oyster bar remains consistently excellent both in the kitchen (try the comforting, seafood-packed North End cioppino and the sweet-savory johnnycake topped with honey butter, caviar, and smoked trout) and in the front of the house. Friendly yet firm hosts politely shoo out those keeping the door cracked open on a cold day, and make good on promises to call your cell in two hours when your seat at the marble bar is finally ready.
For Date Night
24 Fleet St., 617-227-1577, prezza.com.
Sixteen years after it opened, chef Anthony Caturano’s debut still hits the sweet spot between romantic hideaway (a candle on every table) and neighborhood hang (a game always on at the bar). Nestled on Fleet Street, the restaurant boasts a 27-page wine list and lush dishes such as raviolo di uovo, a single oversize orb of brown butter–drenched pasta filled with ricotta and egg yolk, and perfectly smoke-kissed venison loin. The minimalist dining room, with its gallery- style lighting and a few pieces of stark contemporary art, keeps the focus exactly where it should be—on your meal, and your company.
For the Hungry Sybarite
379 Hanover St., 617-523-8481, stregaristorante.com.
A glowing shelf with saffron-tinted Liquore Strega. Eight crystal chandeliers. A VIP photo wall. And yes, that’s really The Godfather and Goodfellas playing on multiple televisions in the dining room. The Varano Group has only upped the excess since it debuted Strega Ristorante more than a decade ago (see: Strip by Strega, its glitzy sister steakhouse in the Boston Park Plaza). The extravagant interior sets the scene for an evening of larger-than-life cocktails—go for the refreshingly smooth spritz with amaro Montenegro—and rich, indulgent fare, from plump sea scallops seared in sweet Grand Marnier to creamy, house-made cheese tortelloni.
For Italian with a South American Twist
210 Hanover St., 617-720-0052, tarantarist.com.
There are plenty of places to get plain-Jane chicken piccata in the North End. This tri-level Peruvian–southern Italian spot is, thankfully, not one of them. Here, gnocchi is made not from potato but starchy cassava root; a trio of deep-fried mini calzones, filled with baccalà, beef tenderloin, and leeks and mozzarella, recall empanadas; and ricotta cannoli are gently infused with the tropical flavor of guava. This innovative culinary mash-up is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team José and Anna Duarte, who grew up in Peru and the North End, respectively—a perfect match indeed.