Best Restaurants in Boston’s Little Italy

So you know about that famous pastry place in the North End that everyone and his uncle knows about.  But do you know where the locals shop?  That’s the question.  Our Boston’s Little Italy Food Tour brings you inside: not only inside up to a dozen mercatos, grocerias, salumerias, pastry shops, pizza shops and wine stores but INSIDE what only the locals know.

Just a few examples:

MARIA’S PASTRY SHOP:  Maria and her daughters are the worker bees at this unpretentious little shop.  Here you can order cannolis where the cream isn’t sitting in the shelf overnight but is pumped in to your choice of shell at the time you order.  Fresh is the modus operandi.  Here the taste of actual flavors comes before the taste of sugar.  So while the pastries here are sweet, sugar doesn’t replace real flavor:  Maria makes the marzipan herself from almond flour.  Anise, sweet cream, pistachio, dark chocolate, rum and fresh ricotta – combined with lighter than light pastry – these are the flavors to savor.

MONICA’S MERCATO:  This gem of a groceria is run by Monica’s three sons:  all of whom live in the neighborhood and are committed to this and their two other establishments: Monica’s Trattoria and Monica’s Vinoteco.   Everything is made on premises:  the bread is baked below and and all the fresh pasta, like stuffed ravioli, are made here.  The butcher Frank buys from sells just to Frank.  The proscioutto coto comes from pigs fed on acorns and the rinds of parmesan – it melts in your mouth.  Want just a few quick taste sensations?  Try the gorgonzola stuffed dates, the sirloin tips, the stuffed eggplant slices.

CIRACES WINE SHOP:  The Cirace family has been running this store since 1906.  Three generations, currently brother and sister, have loved this store and it shows.  Entering is like walking in to old world charm and refinement.  The wood paneled rooms have an ambience fit for the Rothschilds but the bottles on the shelves are for all of us.  The whole price range, from exclusive to budget minded, is available.  Here the wine cave arranges the Italian wines by region, California, France and other nations’ wines are also well represented.  Thirsty for something other than wine?  900 grappas fill some of the shelves, along with limoncello, prosecco, campari, vermouth, gift baskets, Italian ceramics – even cigars!  It’s a treat for the eyes, the choices are staggering, and the staff is knowledgeable and eager to help.

ERNESTO’S PIZZARIA:  On Salem Street since the 1960’s the guys from the Coast Guard make this their regular lunch stop.   Ernesto’s specializes in crispy crust pizza:  Over twenty types of pizza, as well as arancini (fried rice ball stuffed with meat or spinach or mushrooms.) Here a $5 dollar “slice” is really 2 slices, a full quarter of a pie.  Small and well loved, this is one of the many great pizzarias of the North End.

PACE (Pronounced “pa- chay”) AND SONS:  This place is off the beaten path.  The locals go here for GREAT sandwiches: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, a bunch of fresh basil, with or without a huge chicken parm, a little bit of balsamic and voila:  the deli sandwich to die for.  Pace started in 1966 with a $5,000 loan from Nicola to his son Joe Pace.  Joe stocked his store with the food from the old country the locals couldn’t find is the US of A.  The cold cases are stocked with imported and aged cheeses and a variety of cured meats from Italy.  Mike, the current manager, keeps a great olive bar with olives from Sicily to Abruzzo, and keeps the place stocked with San Marzano tomatoes, the best dried pasta, Italian snacks and drinks.  On the tour, we sample cuts of soprasatta, parmesan reggiano from the north of Italy and pecorina cheese from the south.  Pace and Sons is usually our first stop on the food tour and it whets our appetite for what’s to come.

SALUMERIA ITALIANA:  The first person to greet you when you walk into this store is Emilio, the 80 something year old gentleman who started the store many moons ago.  Emilio sits and in broken English, engages the customers:  If the customer chooses to greet him, never pushy, Emilio holds the children’s hands and kisses the hands of the ladies.  Here too, the complete range of cheeses, meats, and fresh loaves are available.  But a few items stand out:  the samples of pesto, both traditional and sundried tomato varieties, the aged balsamic vinegars, the saba (concentrated balsamic aged 20, 30, 50 years), the quality olive oils, and the octopus salad!  The large wait staff is happy to offer you tastes of the aged balsamics and olive oils, and they run an extensive mail order business for those who prefer to have their goods arrive at their home doorstep.

So these are just some of the fine establishments we visit on our tour of Boston’s wonderful, intact Little Italy.  Even with expensive real estate making it difficult for restaurants to survive, very few cities in North America still have a Little Italy that is vibrant and thriving.  Whether you live in Boston, or are just visiting, I’m happy to introduce this gem of a neighborhood to food lovers.

Guest Post by Beth Morrison, Boston by Foot resident food tour guide!