North End Food Tour, Boston

North End Food Tour (Self Guided), Boston

Boston’s North End is famous primarily for its Italian food. By far not as big as New York's Little Italy, this one-square-mile waterfront community is the oldest in the city, and is packed to the brim with a cornucopia of Italian eateries – restaurants, cafes, espresso bars, pizza and sandwich shops – lined next to each other within just a few short blocks to ensure visitors both a visual and a gastric treat.

Being at this historic, Italian-accented area – the densest dining neighborhood in all of New England – the biggest problem you’ll encounter is figuring out where to go, and realizing that you only have one stomach. While there are way too many places to recommend – from very casual/cheap to very expensive, there are a handful that rise to the top for various reasons.

To enjoy the great views Hanover Street has to offer, start at Mother Anna’s, which is owned and operated by the same family since 1932. Not far away, the Modern Pastry Shop gives you the old world Italian feel with out-of-this-world Italian pastries, while Caffe Vittoria, opened in the late 1920s, serves really good lattes, espressos, macchiatos and cappuccinos in a relaxed atmosphere.

Not your typical restaurant, Mamma Maria is a tad more upscale and simply outstanding – so dine there to impress! Meanwhile, a huge selection of coffee beans, as well as a wonderful array of Italian food items await you at Polcari's Coffee.

To save yourself time making dozens of trips to savor what this food lovers' paradise has to offer, follow this guide and explore some of the most notable culinary spots of Boston’s “Little Italy.’’
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North End Food Tour Map

Guide Name: North End Food Tour
Guide Location: USA » Boston (See other walking tours in Boston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Author: anna
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Mother Anna's
  • Bricco Salumeria & Pasta Shop & Panetteria
  • Modern Pastry
  • Caffe Vittoria
  • Mike’s Pastry
  • Mamma Maria
  • Bova’s Bakery
  • Polcari's Coffee
  • Antico Forno
  • Neptune Oyster
Mother Anna's

1) Mother Anna's

Sitting right at the intersection of Hanover and Cross Streets, offering stunning views over the city, the park, and all the action of Boston’s North End including a wealth of Italian restaurants, Mother Anna's Restaurant is the oldest family restaurant in the area that has truly stood the test of time. In business since 1932, it manifests four generations(!!!) of fine Italian cooking and, over decades, has seen many a restaurant come and go in the neighborhood – from single digits, back in the early days, to nearly a hundred these days. Having survived for so long amid such drastic changes – even the old Central Artery that used to divide the North End for so many years, has since disappeared – suggests that Mother Anna's indeed does something right.

Attesting to this is a steady crowd of “regulars” who dine here weekly. The delicious food keeps people coming back for more, in large part thanks to the recipes kept in the family and passed down through generations – from Anna Travaglione, the founder, to John Caparella, Anna’s grandson and current owner who runs this place with his three sons. At Mother Anna’s you can enjoy Italian cuisine at affordable prices complete with plenty of wine and drink options, including the perennial favorites gnocchi Liliana and shrimp exquisito.

Today, Mother Anna’s is a gateway to the historic North End. On a hot summer day, their famous patio filled with umbrellas will shade you from sun, but when a night comes, customers may also enjoy a view of the Boston skyline that only Mother Anna’s can afford!
Bricco Salumeria & Pasta Shop & Panetteria

2) Bricco Salumeria & Pasta Shop & Panetteria

Tucked away in a tiny Board Alley, just off Hanover Street in the North End of Boston, are the two shops – Bricco Salumeria & Pasta Shop and Bricco Panetteria – commonly referred to by locals as Bricco Alley. The former of the two shops specializes in made-to-order sandwiches – some of the best in the city; while the latter is a full-service bakery producing highest quality bread, recognized as one of the Best of Boston in 2014.

The bakery is a brainchild of Frank DePasquale, owner of a chain of restaurants, who opened Bricco Panetteria specifically to provide bread for his chain. The bread is handmade and sold fresh every day. The shop also pays tribute to the Sundays of DePasquale’s youth by offering hand-made pasta, prepared just like his mother did back in Italy. It complements well the high-caliber Italian products sold at Salumeria next door, many of which are imported straight from the “old country” including cheeses (notably: mozzarella and focaccia), meats, olive oils, vinegars and tomatoes – everything you need for a delicious authentic Italian meal, at your fingertips!

The little opening outside, with a few tables, is where you can eat it whilst breathing the aroma of freshly-baked bread all the way. Many a people, strolling past, find hard to resist the temptation and stop by to pick up a loaf or two for themselves. You may as well fall into this trap so as to ensure a good memory of your time in the North End. And you may even make a point of coming back again, every now and then, to repeat the experience!
Modern Pastry

3) Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry is an iconic North End pastry emporium with a loyal following. Yet this family-owned bakery has been in business for decades, it has a rather modern vibe – hence the name. The place is known for its wide selection of delicious pastry: old-world cakes, eye-catching cupcakes, cookies, pizelles, and chocolates, but above all – for their main specialty that makes it worth queuing here for – cannoli.

In terms of cannoli, Modern Pastry famously rivals another landmark bakery, Mike’s Pastry. In fact, the whole city of Boston is split between Mike’s and Modern on the cannoli front, in which the tourists seem to favor Mike’s, whereas locals prefer Modern. You'll have to see for yourself where you stand on this one. While at it, make sure to also check out Modern Underground for a decent cocktail to go with your dessert.

Modern's indoor seating area is much like a social club where the owners pride themselves on their ability to recognize customers. Whereas cookies are their main highlight — sold by the bulk for as little as $5 per bagload (bargain!), they also have a breakfast and brunch menus served before noon. So if you're in the vicinity struck with veracious appetite, be sure to pop in and, after finishing your meal, treat yourself to, say, some delightfully flaky sfogliatella (lobster tail pastry) and a coffee.

The family of chefs behind this bakery have honed their pastry craft for over 150 years, across continents, so they know what they're doing.

Tip: when the lines are long, they open up a smaller store next door that sells exactly what they have in the larger bakery. Only the locals know to go there.
Caffe Vittoria

4) Caffe Vittoria

Set on the North End's Hanover Street, in the very heart of Italian quarter, Caffe Vittoria prides itself on being reputedly the first Italian cafe in Boston, established since 1929. The claim seems plausible given the place's Old-World funky retro vibe resembling that experienced in rural Italian towns and somehow missing in the New England Starbucks. Small, metal-rimmed chairs and tables scattered about across the four floors of worn marble with three bars, glass display cabinets, and a treasure trove of old coffee machines and espresso makers, not to mention the prints, are good enough a reason to visit here, at least once, and is as close as it gets to a museum of the development of the modern cup of espresso.

Speaking of coffee, and especially the cappuccino, it is well worth your time, and will deliciously pair with the various Italian pastries they sell here too. Reliable sources say, many celebrities and politicians frequent this North End hotspot to fuel themselves up with some of the best hot chocolate, cappuccino and cannoli in Boston, if not the whole of the United States!

All the bars at Caffe Vittoria sell liquor, including Italian Grappa, which is definitely worth a shot... or two. Also, in 1995, the owners opened a cigar bar in the basement, called Stanza dei Sigari (Cigar Room) which, as of 2014, has been the last surviving smoking lounge in the city.
Mike’s Pastry

5) Mike’s Pastry

One of the landmark pastry shops on Hanover Street in the North End of Boston, Mike’s is definitely the biggest tourist draw for the entire neighborhood. Always crowded and hectic, this place is best known for its cannoli (particularly, florentine cannoli) – tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet, creamy stuff. And they don’t skimp on the size either. Alongside the famous cannolis they also offer a variety of other large pastries (emphasis on large!). So if you’re not so much into cannoli yourself, worry not as you can’t go wrong with any of the biscotti, cookies, lobster tails, cream puffs, or macaroons at Mike’s.

Still, if you're indeed a cannoli fan, be sure to stop by Mike’s after dinner for one (or a few) of their 19 cannoli flavors, including plain, Nutella, Oreo, Limoncello, and others. Fun date night idea: get the cannoli package and make your own at home. Greedy!!!
Mamma Maria

6) Mamma Maria

Mamma Maria is a world-class restaurant in North Square, the oldest public square in the United States, home to many pivotal figures in American history. Set in a 19th-century brownstone atop a small hill overlooking the city of Boston, Mamma Maria can virtually transport you to “la Patria” with its Old-World intimacy, attention to detail and a warm welcome much greater than at any other similar place in the neighborhood. If you relish waiters in neckties, white tablecloth ambiance, and the atmosphere of European period setting, this place is for you!

Also distinctive of Mamma Maria is the striking view of downtown Boston – a dramatic contrast between skyline panorama and the twisted streets and cobblestones of North Square – which opens through the wide floor-to-ceiling windows of the five multi-level dining rooms.

Although Mamma Maria is the only Italian restaurant in Boston awarded Four Diamonds by AAA and recommended by The New York Times, it is quite far from claiming to be the best Italian restaurant in the city. Nor is it about creative Italian cooking either. Mamma Maria sticks to the classics and offers seasonally inspired menu with an emphasis on historical and traditionally elegant Tuscan dishes. While the menu changes every night, Mamma Maria is particularly renowned for their Osso Buco (veal) and Rabbit Pappardelle.

The overall combination of North End and the home-style cooking of the rich and meaty recipes that spent decades in the making is what makes this old-school Italian eatery worth coming to. If you’re thinking strategically, eat here before a snowstorm and then you’ll be able to hibernate for a few days!
Bova’s Bakery

7) Bova’s Bakery

If you want to ditch the lines altogether and have a classic Italian grandma experience, make sure to pay a visit to Bova’s. Hidden away from the sight down Salem street, this tiny family-owned bakery has been in business since 1932. It operates 24/7, and in a city that sleeps early, is the only place to go to in the North End for those hankering sweets in the middle of the night.

If you're keen on cannolis, you'll find them here in multiple flavors, so feel free to make yourself a to-go box of assorted cookies and pastries from the giant glass display cases up front. That said, the crunchy, Florentine cannoli and huge, flaky lobster tails are among the best reasons to visit the North End regardless of the hour. Note that this is a traditional bakery where nothing looks perfect and uniform as the pastries do at Modern or Mike’s.

Renowned for their wide range of breads (including seasonal varieties such as Easter bread), pastries, cookies, tarts, cakes, and pies, the place also caters to those craving something more substantial, like fresh-baked calzones, subs, spuckies or Sicilian-style pizza. This is a real deal and a cash-only operation. It’s a little cramped, so you’ll probably want to head outside to eat.
Polcari's Coffee

8) Polcari's Coffee

Nestled on the corner of Salem Street, this cute little shop may deceive you with its sign suggesting it's a cafe, but it's not. Polcari’s is a store. You can get coffee here alright though, but beans only – they don't brew it. The place is permeated with the smell of coffee and this fragrance alone is well worth stepping in for. And when you do, you'll be amazed at the feeling of being straight back into the past – brass weighing scales and mechanical cash register with dozens of glass jars full of coffee beans; seeds, nuts, and candies, plus an assortment of spices, herbs, extracts, and olive oils imported from Italy. All at great prices!

Established in 1932 by Anthony Polcari, an immigrant from Italy, this old-school store is a kind of curiosity shop that caters to those looking for neighborhood comforts and a taste of Boston’s Italian history. The store is full of Old-World flavor and was passed down through generations of the Polcari family. One of the ex-employees, who had worked here for 26 years, now runs the place with the utmost reverence for the vision of the founder and dedicated to preserving the Polcari family legacy alive.

The staff are friendly and extremely helpful, happy to tell you about coffee and North End history. If you’re unsure on a souvenir to bring home from Boston, just buy a pound of Polcari’s coffee. The regular presence of local foodies and coffee snobs here is a good sign that this is a real deal. Other than coffee — in summer, don’t miss their homemade Italian slush – shaved ice with a splash of lemon! Well worth a stop on your exploration of the North End!
Antico Forno

9) Antico Forno

Billed as “The Most Authentic Italian Restaurant,” Antico Forno makes it hard to dispute the statement. Spacious enough to accommodate a weeknight impulse visit, family in tow, this mainstay in Boston’s North End manages a cozy mom-and-pop atmosphere with the world-class traditional cuisine. Entrees like Saltimbocca di Pollo and Linguine al Frutti di Mare hearken back to the old country, but Antico Forno is best known for its brick-oven pizzas piled high with house-made Italian sausages and mozzarella. “No gimmicks, no kitsch”, just traditional thin-crusted Neapolitan pizzas from a wood-fired brick oven are absolutely divine and really distinguish this well-priced North End stalwart.

Still, Antico Forno is much more than just pizzas, but the Southern Italian cuisine in general, distinctly fresh and savory. A selection of hearty pasta dishes, like linguine baked in parchment with tomato sauce and a generous serving of shellfish, plus other “spot-on” Southern Italian fare served in a casual and relaxed setting, will warm up the soul and satisfy even the most voracious appetite boosted by a glimpse of the wood-burning stove.

This lively restaurant is a good proof that dining at the North End doesn’t necessarily have to imply slurping spaghetti in tight quarters. Other than delicious food at reasonable prices, Antico Forno also provides full bar and a private dining room. The place is quite popular, so advance reservations are highly recommended.
Neptune Oyster

10) Neptune Oyster

How far would you go for a lobster roll? If you don’t know the answer, take a trip to Boston’s Neptune Oyster and find out. Perhaps one of best-known restaurants in the city, this North End oyster bar is a conglomeration of terrible things: long queues, tight quarters, loud noise, slow service, hordes of tourists, and a wallet-draining menu. But all that combined is beaten by one thing that is hard to argue – the place has really, really great food!!!

Founded in 2004, Neptune Oyster is exemplary in its East Coast raw bar perfection. The simple, subway tiled interior gleams with retro charm. While many patrons focus on the raw bar, those who opt for substantial fare enjoy one of the city's most renowned lobster rolls, served hot with butter or cold with mayo. Other standouts include juicy burgers topped with fried oysters, and composed entrees like a whole Rockport mackerel served Veracruz-style. Given the cramped environs, be ready to wait out the door for one of the marble-topped tables or a seat at the bar. But when you get here, you'll know it was worth it!

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