If you seek a taste of Italy without going the distance, take the trip down to the North End of Boston, the little Italian part of the city near the river. Here, modern architecture disappears, replaced by uneven streets of picturesque brick buildings. The following article will help you navigate this lively neighborhood—overflowing with restaurants, cafés, bars, bakeries, shops, and more—by pointing you immediately to ten spots that each provide their own one-of-a-kind experience.
This little Italian goods store, similar to a deli through American eyes, is the go-to place for real Italian goods. It lies just off the main street in the North End, Hanover Street, on an unpretentious road that would not suggest the high quality of the goods sold at the Salumeria, all at a reasonable price. The store is staffed mostly by friendly Italian-Americans, who, in addition to selling goods rarely seen out of the Old World— such as classic Italian nougat and Pici from Siena—also serve fresh and popular panini. These, or the various cold cuts from which the store derives its name and reputation, are a perfect treat when the weather is nice and what with the bay just around the corner…
Just off Hanover Street in the North End is a tiny alley called Board Alley—hidden down it are two of the tastiest and most authentic spots in the area: Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shopand Bricco Panetteria. The latter boasts bread of the highest quality, awarded among the Best of Boston 2014. The bread is handmade and sold fresh every day. To complement the bread and complete a delicious Italian meal is the Salumeria right next door. Here, high-caliber Italian products, many imported, are sold, such as fresh mozzarella and focaccia. In the little opening in front of these stores are a couple of tables where you can eat while still smelling the aroma of hot bread.
Improv Asylum is in a basement under Hanover Street. Whether tuning in for a nightly show or for a matinée, guests will receive a break from the bustle of the streets above by descending into the cool, dark atmosphere of the Improv Asylum Bar. The bar operates before shows and during intermissions—its lighting paired with its brick décor makes for a chic ambience. The shows are a mixture of improv and sketch comedy, with tickets priced in the range of $20-30. The Asylum’s high number of shows per week, 12, are often sold out, a fact which speaks to the their quality. The various shows are almost sure to make you laugh, but the audience must be ready that actors will sometimes drag members into their scenes!
Jeans are king at In jean ius. This store prides itself on being able to fit jeans to any body type—just enter in the store and the sales assistants will flock over to offer you various pairs of jeans that they feel will suit you. The workers look after customers, who can relax and let their jeans-buying be directed by experts. The jeans come in various styles, brands and colors as well as sizes, and the store also sells cute tops and jewelry to pair with the jeans. The prices are high—almost always over $100 and even reaching $300—but the work gone into the jeans and finding the perfect pair ensures satisfaction for the customer and a long life for the jeans.
The Living Room Bar‘s name accurately paints a picture of what you will find inside: a sprawling and relaxed environment, dotted with large couches in the first room with the bar, a comfortable seating area in the next room, and then a private space in the back for various events—the bar even hosts weddings. The cuisine is global comfort food, contributing to the feeling of being in a familiar place. TVs are scattered around the bar, making it a popular place during sporting events. Monday through Friday the bar hosts a version of happy hour with hot-priced appetizers instead—all $3. This is the place to go to eat, drink, watch sports and, mostly, relax.
Churches: St. Leonard’s Church and Old North Church
The Old North Church in the North End is the oldest church still standing in Boston, founded in 1722, and one of Boston’s most-visited sites. It is Protestant, reflected in its austere white wooden furnishing and minimal decorations. St. Leonard’s, the first Roman Catholic Church in New England, lies at the heart of the North End and was built by Italian immigrants in 1873. While the immigrants started off from more humble backgrounds than many of their Protestant neighbors, the church is far more ornate, adorned with gilded ceilings and various representations of saints and religious figures. A visit to both these churches is enhanced by their contrast, derived from their different religious traditions.
The Old North Gift Shop houses two tucked away stores that are worth a visit: the Print Shop of Edes & Gill and Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. The Print Shop has an 18th century printing press to lend visitors the experience of printing in the colonial period. A historian and printer will be present to demonstrate how to use the printer and to explain the impact of printing on the colonies of the time. The Chocolate Shop has a staff dressed up in colonial garb who do a demonstration on the history of chocolate and how it is made, tying it back to the American colonies—don’t worry, you’ll get a taste! There are also little gifts for sale, such as cookbooks and souvenirs on the Revolution.
Right on Hanover Street, Caffe Vittoria prides itself in being the first Italian café in Boston. It creates a romantic atmosphere that is somehow missing from the New England Starbucks: small, metal-rimmed chairs and tables are scattered about across four floors of seating in front of the three bars and are surrounded by antique looking coffee machines and prints. The coffee, and especially the cappuccino, is worth your time, and it can be deliciously paired with the various Italian pastries that are also for sale. All the bars also sell liquor, including Italian Grappa, which is worth a shot. Or two.
The Daily Catch, a little hole in the wall on Hanover Street, makes for an excellent meal if you’re willing to wait in line for a spot. Started by the son of Italian immigrants and his wife, this locale combines together fresh fish of various types, such as shrimp, scallops, mussels, squid, monkfish, swordfish, and calamari, the highlight, and mixes it in with pasta to create a flavorful Sicilian speciality. There is only space for 20 people in the restaurant, hence the wait, but service is fast, and the small space evokes the image of a busy coastal restaurant in Sicily. The dishes are also filling and delicious, making it worth the wait. But bring cash—as any typical Italian place would, this restaurant does not accept cards! The Daily Catch, 323 Hanover St., Boston, MA, USA
Modern Pastry, known for its wide and delicious pastry selection, also has an indoor seating area, making it a popular place to catch up for locals and visitors alike with some coffee and pastries. The owners pride themselves on being able to recognize customers and in having turned their bakery into a social space. They also have a breakfast and brunch menu served until 12 pm. The cookies are a highlight—you buy them by the bulk, and can get good value for your money with just $5. The family of chefs behind this bakery has maintained its methods over 150 years and across continents to craft the pastry collection they now sell.