Review: Tonino Is Unpretentious, Delicious, and Consummately Jamaica Plain

The Italian restaurant makes a case for getting out of your downtown dining rut.

Pepperoni is a favorite topping option for Tonino’s rectangular pizzas. / Photo by Adam DeTour

Every dedicated Boston restaurant explorer knows the varied, distinctive character of our neighborhoods—particularly the ones where tourists roam and the cost of parking infuriates. The South End is loaded with sophisticated, eclectic indies. Chinatown spins a tantalizing lazy Susan of regional Asian cuisines. The Seaport has slickness and sizzle, if perhaps too many national chains. The North End serves up a well-worn, overstuffed platter of Italian-American fare. The Back Bay gets dressed up for its higher-end hot spots.

But what characterizes a diverse residential neighborhood like Jamaica Plain? It isn’t a unifying culinary regionality à la Chinatown or the North End—a walk down Centre Street reveals a veritable United Nations of food. Unlike the Back Bay or Seaport, formality and glamour are in short supply: Even the celebrated chefs at Ten Tables and Brassica Kitchen work distinctly unassuming dining rooms. The hard-partying din of Southie restaurants is absent here; family-oriented J.P. goes to bed at a sensible hour. So how could a single place sum up the J.P. ethos? It would have to be a little offbeat, informal, and maybe more waitstaff-friendly than most: something like Tonino, an Italian trattoria that opened in October 2022 with loads of charm and a menu full of delightful little surprises.

Tonino reflects J.P.’s low tolerance for pretentiousness with a menu that eschews florid farm-to-table prose: no name-checking of every cheesemaker or boat captain here. That minimalism can leave some unfamiliar food terms unexplained, so it’s good to ask questions. For instance, cofounder and chef Luke Fetbroth (an alum of Sarma, Giulia, and Moody’s Delicatessen) leads off with “pizza bianca” ($3), which includes upgrade options like “stracciatella, whipped ‘nduja, Calabrian chili, basil” ($10). I took this to mean an ordinary white pizza, i.e., no red sauce, that could be ordered plain or with toppings. So imagine my surprise when I was served slices of bread and a dipping bowl of soft, raggedy cheese topped with a spicy-hot, spreadable salami. As it turns out, pizza bianca is actually a type of bread popular in Rome: long-fermented, stretched to an inch-thick rectangle, and baked to a light char on the oven floor. The combo was a terrific appetizer to share, and I now understand why Romans adore the bread: It’s akin to focaccia but chewier, lighter, far less oily, and much bubblier. Still, not remotely what I’d anticipated.

Rigatoni amatriciana is one of several noteworthy pasta dishes. / Photo by Adam DeTour

There were plenty of other twists and turns on the menu, including “roasted squid, brown butter pickles, gigante beans, chicory” ($18), which came not as the hot dish of squid with sides I was expecting but rather a delicious salad. And although “anchovies, Ronnybrook farm butter, pizza bianca” ($15) was served as described, it still offered swoony, unexpected moments. I had no inkling how thickly that luscious butter would be laid on the bread or how perfectly it would balance the anchovies’ intense brininess. It’s a snack Italians slap together at home when the cupboard is bare—brilliant but not often seen in restaurants. One other showstopper was a rare dish that showed up exactly as its menu description led me to imagine it: a dozen pristine countneck clams ($28) with excellent guanciale in an insistently garlicky white-wine broth, improvable only with some pizza bianca for mop-up.

Your steak-loving dad might get salty upon learning that Tonino offers no slabs of protein, only pizzas and pastas as larger courses. (Try getting away with that downtown.) But the kitchen turns these out with such verve and deft execution that Pops should calm down. The oblong pies (starting at $5 per slice and $20 whole) are built on the pizza bianca base with a bracing tomato sugo. I think more-assertive toppings stand up better to this substantial crust, such as pepperoni with mozzarella, basil, and an unadvertised drizzle of hot honey (surprise!), or a ferocious—and utterly sensational—special of puttanesca topped with chilies, anchovies, capers, basil, and Castelvetrano olives.

Balsamic-drizzled cappelletti steal the show. / Photo by Adam DeTour

The house-made pastas range from really good to mind-blowing. Tonino upgrades the sometimes overly simple pleasures of tonnarelli cacio e pepe ($22)—flat-stranded pasta sauced only with pecorino, black pepper, and pasta water—with a dusting of fennel pollen, adding a welcome frisson of sweetness, lemon, and anise. The painstaking labor that goes into snail-shell-shaped lumache ($26) paid off with sublime texture and an elegant sauce of shiitake and maitake mushrooms and crème fraîche. The showstopper, though, was cappelletti ($26), ingeniously built ravioli with a heavenly filling of melted Taleggio cheese and a drizzle of luxurious aged balsamic. Don’t cut them: Eaten whole, these “little caps” burst exquisitely in the mouth like a ripe cherry tomato.

Fetbroth closes his menu with a short, sharp list of classic desserts described in mercifully unambiguous terms. These include a flourless chocolate cake with black-hole density, bits of lemon-marinated Mandarin oranges, whipped cream, and flaky salt ($12), and an ethereal panna cotta given crunch and zing with pomegranate seeds and diced apples ($10).

J.P.’s hipster grooviness shows in Tonino’s beverage options, particularly cofounder and general manager Claire Makley’s inclusion of a sake list (three options, starting at $15 a glass and $55 a bottle), which shouldn’t be surprising given her past work at the Koji Club and Hojoko. What was surprising was the fact that sake served in a wine glass could be such a spectacular match for Italian food. Cocktails are limited to a few gentle long drinks like the Bergamot Blush ($15): Italicus (bergamot orange liqueur), yuzu sake, prosecco, and seltzer. The short list of 10 or so all-Italian wines (starting at around $15 a glass and $50 a bottle) has just enough stylistic breadth to provide happy matches for zippy seafood plates, bitter-green salads, and fierce salumi accents alike. The lemony fizz of a 2022 Adami Bosco di Gica Prosecco Superiore ($15/$55), for instance, was a splendid foil for a starter of house olives ($7) scented with lemon, garlic, rosemary, and fennel.

The cozy dining room features two coveted seats looking into the open kitchen. / Photo by Adam DeTour

Knowing its neighborhood fans have little use for pomp and frippery, Tonino has designed its snug, softly lit shoebox of a space accordingly, with banquette-and-table seating for 24, two counter seats overlooking the open kitchen, and few accents beyond Jazz Age aperitivo posters and an antique mirror painted with daily specials. And clearly, it’s paid off: Open seats are rare, even more so given that the restaurant is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays to reflect the very up-to-the-moment concept of staff care. Be sure to make reservations in advance if you want to avoid waiting on the sidewalk for a walk-in table.

Even if you do find yourself waiting, it’ll be worth it, especially if you’re ready for a change of pace from the downtown dining scene. After all, it’s hard to imagine a better reflection of J.P.’s inclusive, slightly bohemian, definitely more-chill-than-your-neighborhood vibe than the convivial—and consistently delicious—Tonino.


669A Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-9217,

Menu Highlights

Pizza bianca, roasted squid, countneck clams, anchovies, pizza with pepperoni, lumache, cappellettipanna cotta.

★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No Stars) Poor

First published in the print edition of the May 2023 issue with the headline “Meet Me in J.P.”