Petit bistro Neptune Oyster may not be Italian by definition, but it does serve some of the best seafood in a city known for its fresh fish. Queuing up in its omnipresent line is worth the wait for the excellent, generously stuffed lobster roll (available cold or hot), perfectly fried clams, and dense Johnnycakes topped with smoked bluefish and caviar. If your heart is set on pasta, Lobster Spaghettini pops up as a special each Monday.
Boston’s North End has avoided the fate of so many other ethnic enclaves: The cookie-cutter condos and national chains have been kept at bay, allowing storied Italian favorites and eccentric mom-and-pops to keep on thriving. From cult pizza to take-it-on-the-plane cannoli, here are just a few of our favorites.
Monica's Mercato & Salumeria
You’ll find no shortage of fresh pastas, cured meats, and salty cheeses at family-run market Monica’s Mercato & Salumeria. But one item in particular has us returning lunch after lunch: the Italian sub. This version is gloriously decked out with prosciutto, mortadella, and salami. All of that meat—plus provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, “hots,” and both oil and balsamic vinegar—is piled between bread slices freshly baked on-site. It’s not a skimpy portion, but should you somehow feel peckish later on, the owners also operate a pizzeria downstairs and a trattoria across the street.
Longevity means a lot in a neighborhood like the North End, and in terms of sheer numbers it’s hard to beat Regina’s Pizzeria—the original location is just eight years shy of its 100th birthday. History aside, the pizza keeps us coming back. Each pie is topped with whole-milk mozzarella for a satisfying, even greasy weightiness that’s balanced by the acidity of its red sauce.
If you’re going to Mike’s Pastry, there will be a line, and you will need cash. Once you’ve accepted those facts, you’ll be only a shorter-than-it-looks wait away from flaky, creamy cannoli bliss. While over a dozen varieties ranging from limoncello to mint chip are offered, it’s hard to beat the tried-and-true plain ricotta flavor (though on adventurous nights, we might spring for a chocolate-covered).
Tight hours, low prices, and the prohibition of paying for anything with plastic—Galleria Umberto has all the markings of a beloved hole-in-the-wall. The lunchtime crowds arrive for dense squares of Sicilian-style pizza topped by oozy, plentiful slightly charred cheese. You can’t go wrong sticking to slices, but plan a return visit for the oversized arancini and calzones stuffed with ham and salami.