Eat Boston: The North Stars
Boston's North End has at least one thing going for it over New York's (or LA's) Little Italy: the food is actually good. Not every rave restaurant or cannoli concoctor lives up to that sentiment, but enough do that it's legitimately difficult to go wrong.
These ones, however, go very right.
There are three classic pizza joints in the North End. One of them has expanded to umpteen mediocre-at-best locations throughout the city; the other two have not. As for the other two, I reviewed Ernesto's right over here, and the other place is up next. As for the former, the OG Pizzeria Regina is not bad at all, but the wait is perpetual and these guys are just better, smaller, homier.
Again, check out my review for the whole kit-and-caboodle, but you should know: two slices for the price of one, limited seating, order what's hot. And Chicken-Bacon-Ranch. Pls.
Galleria is cash-only, the line is always out the door and starts as early as 10:30am on the weekends, and seating is luck-of-the-draw, but holy dangnabbit is the food delicious.
This place is pure joy; if you can get a slice of pizza, an arancini, and a table. Sometimes easier said than done. Galleria Umberto does only a couple things, the same way they've been doing them circa forever. There's pizza: Sicilian-style (square) slices for just over a dollar and guaranteed hot out of the kitchen. Arancini, or Italian fried rice balls stuffed with beef and peas and cheese and other gooey yummyness with marinara sauce, fly off the tray as soon as they're wheeled out from the kitchen.
Walking into the cavernous stucco room with one tiny register at the far end, a solitary door behind it from whence emerge carts of molten pizza, every table full, Italian and English bouncing off every corner; it makes you think, "Oh, so this is the North End...awesome."
Monica's used to have a little chalk sign in the window that boasted, "Best Italian Sub in Boston!!" It was 100% accurate. You should go to Monica's, however, under the golden rule of grocery stores: Do not go hungry. Well, do, but beware. There is always a line at the counter, so you're going to be spending some time standing in front of and staring at and basking in the aroma of some very, very handsome Italian food. I'm talking marinated veggies, sicilian pizza, chicken marinara, caprese salads, steak tips, and approximately 100 different types of cured meat and cheese. It is a powerful test of will. Fare thee better than I.
That being said, get an Italian with everything. Prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, all run through a slicer set to thinner than paper-thin, and topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, onion, hots (chopped up marinated hot pepper spread), balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Like most great Italian food, the sandwich thrives off the quality of its ingredients, and in Boston they just don't get better than Monica's.
Forget Mike's. Forget Modern a little less. Bova's rocks. But Parziale's is my jam because it's slightly off the beaten, hard-packed, pounded, paved, eroded path of Mike's and Modern, and the cannolis are not only simpler, they're straight up better. They're also reasonably sized. Listen, if you want a cannoli burrito, go to Mike's. They're not bad. Just less good. Parziale's vanilla custard cannoli with chocolate chips - now that's the dream.
This is it. This one. This is peak North End.
Built into two stories of an old townhouse around the corner from Paul Revere's home, the restaurant is incognito in the daytime, but at night the name "Mamma Maria" is lit like a beacon. It is (or was), essentially, someone's house: tables are set in a dining room, a former living room, and the world's smallest bar. Candle lighting and the constant murmur of conversation maintain a warm and welcoming ambiance.
From Osso Buco to Uni and Crab Pasta, the menu is a well-balanced mix of classic Italian and new Ameritalian dishes. Splurge and order too much, share a bottle of red, and get something sweet because food of this quality demands your love. If you want to sincerely impress someone - a date, a visiting friend, a political rival - this is the place to do it. Too easily one of Boston's best.
Close Enough: Casa Razdora
It's not technically in the North End, but Casa Razdora is close enough and Italian enough to make this list. It is also just bloody great.
Open M-F from 11am-4pm, Casa is a lunch counter for the Financial District suits looking to inject a little heart into their day. Starting at around 11:30, daily specials go into hot plates, ready to eat at a moment's notice. Now hot plates may conjure images of food courts and buffets, but the specials at Casa would take serious insult at that comparison. From Rosette (prosciutto and cheese wrapped in pasta hooooooo mama) to stuffed squash flower, housemade pastas and sliced-to-order subs, Casa brings its A-game to everything on the menu, special or not. At lunch prices. $8 for premium-quality pasta? Yes please.
Hey read-o, read-o Italiano, let me know how you like the above and whether you think I missed YOUR fav North End haunt.
...not that I'll do anything with that information.