Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pasta for Days: Eating in Boston's North End

Guess where I went last week???!!!

The State House
I found this by accident outside my hotel...I felt like I was meeting celebrities!!! (Yes, I am an American Revolution nerd.)

(Hint: it’s in the title :D)

Last week my mom and I took a trip to the East Coast to look at colleges, attend a conference, and just generally have a whole lot of fun in Boston!

Picture in transit!
Ice cream and Paul Revere...I was a pretty happy camper ;) 
 …Which necessitates, of course, enjoying some delicious Bostonian food!

Picture courtesy of
Now if you have ever planned on eating in a foreign location, you probably understand how difficult it is to identify an acceptable restaurant. Before leaving for the East Coast, I spent so much time wading through recommendations, critical synopses, and Google images that I saw red-boxed stars every time I closed my eyes. And yet, several restaurants that my mom and I tried on the trip, accompanied by stellar Yelp reviews, I found pretty unimpressive.

Thankfully,  my mom and I discovered an excellent alternative to browsing Yelp for a good dinner stop...

Taking a stroll around Boston's North End.

The North End is Boston's Italian neighborhood. It's a cozy, old-fashioned area of the city chock-full of little family-owned businesses. Hanover Street, where my mom and I spent most of our time, is so packed with cute little storefronts that you can't even get a good-sized truck through the narrow street. The neighborhood has a charming, happening feel (I mean, it was thronging on a Tuesday night! It was fun just walking around passing people in the street!) .

Most importantly, the North End is a treasure trove of tiny, rustic, absolutely scrumptious Italian restaurants. Supposedly there are over ninety (90...!!!) restaurants within this one easily-navigable-by-foot area. I only actually got around to trying four, but they were all delicious and a really fun experience ( ranging in definition from pleasant and romantic to chaotic and decidedly entertaining). But seriously, you could walk down Hanover street and run into half-a-dozen adorable restaurants you want to try tonight. One of my last comments as I was leaving the area was "How did we  miss that restaurant?"...not like there would have been room in my schedule ;) 

So here are my breakdowns of the handful of restaurants I sampled in Boston. Also, go ahead and click on the map below to check out my Google Map with the locations of the restaurants I'm talking about. Enjoy!

 Map of North End

Pellino's Ristorante

 This was the first place I tried. My mom and I went for lunch (yeah that's the back of my mom's head). As you can see it was really tiny (like, less than 10 tables!)--this is typical of restaurants in this area. They're all super adorable! The decor was pretty rustic--look at the brick walls!

Pretty picture on the wall!
Most of these restaurants have large, open storefronts that are clear open to the street, so you can sit and look out at old-town Boston!

My mom and I ordered pasta because hey, we were in an Italian restaurant.

Gnocchi with tomato sauce...the sauce was so vivid and tart and was a perfect complement for the pasta!
Lobster ravioli with cream sauce. 

In fact, our meal here was so good that we decided to come back to the neighborhood for dinner the very same day!


Ok so this place does have something of a cult following on Yelp. As in, right after explaining how this place doesn't take reservations and that to have any hope of getting in you'd better be ready to show up at 5:00 or wait in an hour-long line, the review explains that the place is entirely worth it.

Typical line at Giacomo's 
 My mom and I found ourselves in the general vicinity around 5:30 and decided to give it a shot. We ended up standing in line for about half an hour and were seated at 6:00.

I will say, that this was a very entertaining experience :D

The restaurant was small, crowded, and loud. It was sort of my idea of a typical Italian restaurant: brick walls, wooden chairs, menu on a blackboard on the wall,

visible kitchen with people scurrying all over and chefs screaming orders at each other and the din of pots and pans in the background.

As soon as my mom and I sat down the owner of the restaurant, a small, squarish very Italian man, comes over to holler at us how the menu works. We were left to contemplate the blackboard for about two minutes before he came back and demanded our orders. At which point I panicked and ordered the first thing that came to mind. We ordering the burrata appetizer, pumpkin tortellini, and I ordered mussels & clams pasta with a giacomo sauce (which I understand is a lobster tomato sauce with a little bechamel mixed in). 

The burrata appetizer was a huge plate of buttery white cheese heaped with diced tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar. As is to be expected of good-quality ingredients, it was delicious. My entree was pretty good but not anything to rave about. I enjoyed my mom's tortellini; it was rich and salty and had a slightly sweet taste that I enjoyed, and the tortellini were big and well-filled. I don't actually have any pictures of the food, because every time we tried to bring out our phones to, like, cancel our former reservation or make sure my brothers in California had not burnt down the house yet, we were chewed out by the owner (in a very good-natured way)! All in all, the food was pretty good. But let's be honest, you don't go to Giacomo's for the food. :D It's definitely an experience type of place. 

My mom and I come from a Croatian family where food is very important and politeness is not a priority, so we were pretty comfortable with the atmosphere of the place. The best part of it was watching the poor befuddled people around us! The table to our right was occupied by two young men, complete strangers, who had walked in alone and were spontaneously seated together when a table became available. It was pretty amusing watching them stare at themselves and their food and try to make passable conversation. On our left was a young woman and her father who were pretty clearly tourists from out of the country. The poor woman was trying to order ravioli but didn't know the word, so was describing it to the owner/waiter as "square pasta". The owner had no idea what he was talking about and was instead explaining to her that they had linguine and what linguine was and at one point turned around and pointed to my plate and I became an object of scrutiny with my mouth full of noodles, and the woman was becoming more and more unsettled and there was a lot of situational humor. 

We didn't finish our food, so he gave us containers to take home, labelled for convenience:

I'm Kid :D
I asked for a picture with the owner and he was so excited to take a picture with me! It was so cute!
My overall review: I'm really glad we went--it was an extremely amusing experience and we had a lot of fun--but the overall dining experience was hectic and rushed and food wasn't to die for. I'd say if you're in Boston, give it a try!

Mike's Pastries

As we finished up our pasta at Giacomo's the owner/waiter came over and asked us where we were going to eat dessert. Because we had done our research (and because we had heard the correct answer impressed into the hapless foreign people next to use) we dutifully answered Mike's Pastries!


Amaretto cannoli!

I'm just going to show you more cannoli pictures and restate that these are THE BEST. CANNOLIS. EVER.

I mean, they are so good that a week later I am still pining over them, and I don't even like cannolis. They're so good that not a single Italian restaurant in the neighborhood that I've visited offers dessert because everyone just walks down the street to Mike's after dinner. It's so good that the place looks like this

on Wednesday night. (Most people order some pastries and leave, so it's pretty easy to find a table if you want to sit down. And that big throng at the front is not actually a line, it's people trying to decide which cannoli they want).

These cannolis were so good that my mom and I tried them after dinner two nights in a row. Then at the end of our second meal we were so despondent at the very valid prospect of not seeing another cannoli this authentic and delicious for another ten years that we decided to buy one for lunch the next day. And then we couldn't decide which flavor to try so took two.

Chocolate chip cannoli for lunch
Chocolate mousse cannoli on the train
The Mike's Pastry box we shoved into my mom's purse...


Another adorable little typical North End restaurant! 

The decor in this restaurant especially was very warm and inviting. The walls were painted brick in shades of off-white and gold. I felt like I was in a little restaurant on the Mediterranean Sea!

My mom and I ate more pasta...the dishes we'd had so far were so good we couldn't help ourselves!

I had the gnocchi with pork ragu and my mom and had spinach ravioli with cream sauce and sun-dried tomatoes...both were exquisite. My gnocchi was rich with tomatoes and meat and I loved the interplay between the spinach, cream, and tomatoes in my mom's food. Absolutely delicious!

Nothing more to say here except to give my resounding recommendation for the North End.

Sam La Grassa's

Ok so this isn't in the North End, but another spot you shouldn't miss! 

It's a sandwich shop that's more-or-less famous around Boston for their heaping, delicious sandwiches. 

Chipotle Pastrami Sandwich
Yuuuuummmmmm--great lunch spot!

Miscellaneous Boston-Related Foodie Points of Interest

Guess who I saw speak at a conference in Boston?

Martha Stewart!
Who I have often been compared to...hopefully without the jail time. ;)

I would give you an outline of what she said...but honestly she wasn't the most riveting speaker, and you'd probably get more benefit just from reading her Wikipedia article

She did make veggie juice for the whole audience though! 

...Which was a good experience because now I don't have to go make it myself just to know what it tastes like. I think I prefer my celery on a plate. 
 I also checked out a little market where supposedly Julia Child used to shop!

And that's all my cuisine-related know-how regarding Boston! I had such a great time there!

After Boston, my mom and I took the train to New expect soon a similar break-down of NYC fabric stores! Feel free to add your Boston-related wealth of knowledge in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. There should be a warning not to read this post before lunchtime!!

    I love this line, "My mom and I come from a Croatian family where food is very important and politeness is not a priority." You belong on the East Coast. Great post.