The most asked question I receive on my tour is, “Do you recommend any place to eat dinner?” My usual joke is: until one of the restaurants starts paying me to say otherwise, all the places in the North End are the same.
But here is my serious answer. All the restaurants range from good to great. Out of 5 stars, most have a ranking of 3.5 to 5 stars. (The reason they’re all so high ranking is that the competition in the North End is fierce—if you’re not good, you don’t survive long.) All the restaurants are a little expensive compared to other places you might eat in the city. In some cases, the difference between places comes down to service.
In this blog post, I’m not going to mention pizza joints, of which there are a number. I will focus on that in a separate post in the future. Instead, I’m going to write on a few of my personal favorite restaurants in the North End and mention others that receive rave reviews.
First things first—I’m a vegetarian and most traditional Italian food doesn’t mesh well with my diet. Locations in the North End use beef and pork in most dishes, or at least in the sauces. So for you carnivores out there, your options are pretty endless. As a vegetarian, I’m forced to be a bit pickier. That said, there are still a few solid options.
211 Hanover St.
You can’t get a better location than Mother Anna’s. Located at the front of the North End on the main street in the neighborhood, you can’t miss it. Opened since 1932, it’s one of the oldest (if not the oldest) restaurants still operating in Boston’s Little Italy. There is seating both on the main floor and in the basement, which has dimmer lighting and is more intimate. There’s also outdoor seating that looks onto the Rose Kennedy Greenway and is great for people watching. The menu is huge with everything from your basic kinds of pasta to dishes that come with seafood, veal, chicken, and steak. The prices are fair and the portions are generous. As a vegetarian, I found many options. There’s a reason Mother Anna’s has been around for so long—they serve good food with quality service in a pleasant atmosphere. Going here for a meal is always a sure bet.
241 Hanover St.
I share this one with a caveat; I’ve never eaten at Bricco. But, I have had their breads and cheeses around the corner, tucked down an alleyway at the salumeria and panetteria. (See the video below.) The cheeses I’ve had are some of the best I’ve ever eaten and the bread is out of this world, made even better with some olive oil. If they’re this awesome (and the bread is the same as you’ll receive at Bricco), I can’t help but think the actual food is even better. I need to get off my butt and get to Bricco. Or really, any of the other restaurants owned by Frank DePasquale in the North End. DePasquale has been running restaurants in the neighborhood since 1987 and has seen a lot of success, so he’s doing something right. I’ve had co-workers and guests tell me the Italian subs at the salumeria are phenomenal. Once again, I need to get off my butt and grab an eggplant parm and give it a shot. But if the cheeses and bread are any sign, I’m pretty confident about my suggestion here.
98 Salem St.
Terramia is a one-of-a-kind place for my vegetarian tastes. They’re the only restaurant I’ve found in the North End that has a special menu for vegetarians and vegans (as well as one for people who have a gluten-free diet). With most North End joints there is usually only one option for me; maybe two if I’m lucky. At Terramia there are five entrée options and soup, as well as vegan gelato. That said, there are still plenty of meat options: veal, beef, and seafood are all found on the menu. Once again, the ambience is intimate—there are about a dozen tables. The wine selection compliments the food well. This is my go-to place in the North End and not because of my diet. It’s got good service, great food, and the intimacy I’m looking for whether it’s a dinner amongst family or a romantic date. On a related note, the owners of Terramia also own Antico Forno, located right across the street. It’s a wood-fired pizza joint which guests have told me is excellent.
Some other recommendations and thoughts
This next suggestion may seem odd coming from a vegetarian. But given the lines I see outside Neptune Oyster every day before it opens (even in the winter), I can’t help but think they’re doing something right. Not to mention, they are up for a 2020 James Beard Award for best restaurant in the country. (If you don’t know what the James Beard Awards are, they’re kind of like the Emmys, Grammys, or Tonys, but for restaurants.) Neptune Oyster is also on just about everyone's best restaurants in Boston (or America) list and feedback from tourists I’ve sent there is that it’s excellent and not just for oysters. A common suggestion I’ve heard is that they make one of the best lobster rolls around. Given the fact there’s always a line, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn Neptune doesn’t take reservations.
Speaking of restaurants with lines, another very popular place in the North End is Giacomo’s. (It's pronounced Jah-co-moes—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people mispronounce it.) There is almost always a line there after 5 PM, especially in the summer. Giacomo’s focuses on seafood with their pasta, but has options for the meat eaters and vegetarians out there. Even though there’s a line, it moves quick. Giacomo’s isn’t the type of place where you go through many courses, have numerous bottles of wine, followed by an after-dinner cappuccino. They’re generally interested in getting people in and out. That’s not to say they do so in a rude way. But if you’re looking for a casual evening where you can relax and take your time in conversation and eating, this isn’t the place. Still, the vegetarian options available and the line tells me I should check this place out. Giacomo’s doesn’t take reservations and they are cash only. There’s also another location in Boston’s South End neighborhood.
A helpful hint: try out a restaurant in the North End for lunch. Many places offer a special lunch menu that although limited is cheaper and still has sizeable portions. Not every restaurant is open for lunch but the ones that are don’t require waiting in line. So while it may not be a romantic dinner, if you’re on the Freedom Trail and worked up an appetite, it’s an easy and cheap option.
One last note: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reservations. While some places don’t take them, check a restaurant’s website ahead of time to see if it’s an option. If you take one of my tours on a Friday or Saturday night in the summer, you’re going to need reservations at about any place since the tour ends around 6:30 PM.
If you don’t have a reservation anywhere but still want some Italian food, you won’t be entirely put out (unless you have a big group). In that case, I recommend walking down one of the two main streets in the North End, Hanover or Salem, and check out menus in the windows at restaurants. See what looks good, fits your price range, and doesn’t look like it has a two-hour wait. Keep in mind many of the restaurants only have 10-20 tables. But with dozens of restaurants and cafes in a neighborhood of less than one square mile, you’ll certainly find something that will give you a great meal.
And don't forget to book a crime tour with us before you go out to any of these great restaurants!