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My own private North End -- a report

My own private North End -- a report I've spent the last 15 months on a quest to try at least one meal or otherwise appropriate munch (often more than one as time and budget allows) at every restaurant in Boston's North End, then ranking them. Just finished the quest and here's what I came up with. A few disclaimers:

1. for these purposes, the North End's boundaries are as follows: start at the corner of Cross St. and Atlantic Ave., follow Cross St. going NW, bear right onto North Washington St., turn right onto Commercial St., follow this street as it more-or-less merges into Atlantic Ave., stop at the corner of Cross St. and Atlantic Ave. Any eatery described in disclaimer #2 below that is within this circumference or along either side of the boundary streets is included.

2. I've included, as far as I can tell, every place that serves food or bakery items and has at least one spot where you can sit and consume. Thus places like Dairy Fresh Candies, Polcari's Coffee, White Hen Pantry, and Salumeria Italiana don't count, but spots like Tutto Italiano, J. Pace, Prince Postale, and Golden Goose Market do. Only exception: all bakeries count, regardless of whether they offer seating or not.

3. alcohol doesn't count towards or against any rankings shown.

4. the rankings primarily reflect quality of food, but clip joint shenanigans such as unexplained extra charges or wrong charges in favor of the establishment, refusal to offer lunch menus, and funny business re tap vs. bottled water drag down a few rankings.

5. rankings are: excellent (would return readily as a regular), good (well worth going to, maybe not as a regular), fair (would go, but not by any means a first choice), poor (would not go at gunpoint). Within categories, things are more or less in order from top of category to bottom of category.

6. I've hit every place here at least once, often more than once as time and budget allowed. I've ordered food at each place that they should do well (at least one pasta dish at Italian spots, pizza at pizza places, subs at sub shops, for example). At the coffee-and-pastry spots, I got a black-no-sugar decaf espresso (or ordinary black coffee no sugar at the one spot not serving this) and a cannoli if served, a representative bakery item if not. At bakeries, I tried several items, including cookies, cake, cupcakes, and the like.

7. what for example constitutes an Italian vs. non-Italian restaurant may admittedly be subjective, but rankings are absolute across categories. Poor is poor regardless of category.

--Italian restaurants and pizzerias
Excellent: Prezza, Mamma Maria, Pizzeria Regina, Galleria Umberto, Giacomo's, Antico Forno, Maurizio's, Marco, Taranta, Daily Catch, Pagliuca's.

Good: Euno, Carmen, Hot Tomatoes, Saraceno's, Bella Vista, Tutto Italiano, J. Pace, Dino's, Lucca, Vinoteca di Monica, Trattoria di Monica, Davide, Bricco, La Summa, Pomodoro, La Galleria 33, Pushcart Pizza, Ernesto's, Tresca, Eclano, Mare, Il Villaggio, Assaggio, Massimino's, Villa Francesca, Cafe Florentine, 5 North Square, Emedio's, Rabia's, Al Dente.

Fair: Terramia, Bacco, Limoncello, Cantina Italiana, L'Osteria, Lucia, Filippo's, Trattoria Il Panino, Il Panino Express, Fiore, LoConte's, Mother Anna's, Strega, G'Vanni's, Piccolo Nido.

Poor: Artu, Cibo, Nebo, Ida's, La Famiglia Giorgio, Piccola Venezia, Dolce Vita, Riccardo's, Caffe Pompei, La Brace, Joe Tecce's, La Famiglia Spagnuolo.

--Non-Italian restaurants
Excellent: Neptune Oyster, Waterfront Cafe.

Good: Mangia Mangia, North Street Grill, Volla Nolle, Sal's Lunch, Billy Tse, Theo's Cozy Corner, Four Winds Bar and Grill.

Fair: Goody Glover's, Joe's American Bar and Grill, Anthony's Cafe, The Living Room.

Poor: Golden Goose Market, Boston Sail Loft, China House, Corner Cafe.

Excellent: Modern Pastries, Maria's Pastry Shop, Mike's Pastries.

Good: A. Parziale's Bakery, Lulu's, Bova's Bakery.

Fair: A. Boschetto's Bakery.

Poor: Trani.

--Coffee and pastries/gelato
Excellent: Boston Beanstock, Caffe Vittoria, Gelateria.

Good: Caffe Paradiso, Caffe dello Sport, Flamepoeira.

Fair: Starbuck's, Caffe Graffiti, Contrada's, Napoli Pastry.

Poor: Prince Postale.

Hope this is helpful, though I don't expect everyone will agree with these rankings.

[Note: This post was edited slightly at bachslunch's request. -- The Chowhound Team].

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  1. Helpful? More like a compendium to every Hanover Street trip. As you might suspect, I do not agree with all of your ratings (e.g., I think Davide is excellent), but on the whole, who can complain? This is some body of work. A tip of the capello to you, egregio signore.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Bob MacAdoo

      And a major thank you for all your "hard work!"

      1. re: Bob MacAdoo

        Giacomo’s always fascinated me; while other places went wanting with empty tables, the line here seemed endless. With so many good to excellent restaurants only steps away, why did so many wait so long for this one establishment? Finally on Thanksgiving eve, I had the chance to find out. We were seated immediately and the table already was set up with nice crusty bread, olive oil and water. Why other places don’t get this part right is confounding. When guests sit down, there should be some food in front of them, both at home when entertaining and when dining out. The wines-by-the-glass were limited so we ordered the chardonnay; it was decent and we were thirsty. On to the food: My DC believes that one of the true tests of an Italian kitchen is the friend calamari, so we ordered and shared a large appetizer portion and if it were the SAT’s of cuisine, this would have scored a solid 2300 out of 2400. Light, crispy and perfectly presented with a nice marina sauce for dipping. For a main dish to share we ordered the half lobster with linguine, mussels and clams with the scampi sauce. It came to the table beautifully presented, steaming with piled high mollusks and a plume of garlic wafted through our souls as it was set in front of us. We dismantled the lobster, split the pasta and shellfish and the waiter came by with the freshly grated parmesan to which we said ‘yes!’ The first forkful - with great anticipation - revealed the true flavor of SALT. SALT! Such a rookie mistake, so over-saline and almost inedible. The scampi sauce (one of five sauces they offered) ruined the dish. Not that we did not finish every last morsel, but it failed to impress and was downright disappointing. I have ordered nearly the same meal at several other N. End places and this one was the pits. It left me wanting for a good meal. I always say “that’s why they put it in shakers – so you can add your own.” Too many cooks are desensitized to salt that they keep adding it until they can taste it. Big kitchen mistake. I make better at home, with fresh basil and parsley too, none of which were detected here, just predominantly salt. I might go back and try a red sauce or the house special Giacomo made with lobster bodies and cream. But if I had to wait, I’d go elsewhere, almost anywhere.

        Giacomo's Restaurant
        355 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

        1. re: ipsofatso

          Thanks for the detailed report! I have to say I don't care much for Giacomo's, either. The South End one take reservations, at least, but it has always been one of those places about mediocrity in abundance to me. My theory as to why it is so popular is because it is so popular: a lot of North End visitors make their restaurant choices based on busy-ness: they see the lines and join the lines. Call it a feedbag feedback loop.


          1. re: MC Slim JB

            It's also " tourist friendly" priced. Where else can you get a bottle of wine for $15 in the North End? But what a lot of people don't understand is you get what you pay for.

            1. re: phatchris

              I agree to a point: there are certainly better spots to choose from when in the North End. In the South End, however, I think it fills a definite void: a reasonably priced, consistently good spot for classic red sauce Italian. Is it earth shattering, inventive cuisine? No. It is what it is. A great spot for fried calamari, overflowing ceasar salads, and garlicky pasta dishes with solid red sauces. Certainly something you could make at home, but sometimes you're just craving a good chicken parm, marsala, and pasta dish --and I think Giacomo's south end does these well.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            Third that "wow." Very impressive work. I'd be interested in some commentary on the restaurants when time allows.

            I don't see Pomodoro on your list. If you haven't been yet, get the fried calamari and either chicken carbonara or chicken marsala.


            1. re: BJK

              Geez, I thought I had listed them all, too -- I checked the tally a couple times. I did go to Pomodoro and would rank it in the "Good" category, right after La Summa and before La Galleria 33. Can't re-edit the original post now, darn it.

              1. re: bachslunch

                Actually, you can -- if you go back to the original post, and you're logged in as bachslunch, there should be an "edit" link next to the "Permalink | Report | Reply" section for at least 24 hrs after making the post. I recently edited an Istanbul post after thinking of a few other things.

                I'll chime in with kudos for an impressive survey, and suggest it be left at the top of the list for reference purposes. As with BJK, I'm also curious to hear a little specific commentary on what you liked (or hated) about some (or many) of these places. I find myself agreeing frequently, though in at least one case (Marco), I think the place is uneven and freakishly expensive (details at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/43321... ). As such, I wouldn't class it in excellent, as it would be possible to shell out a large amount of money there and come away un-blown away.

              2. re: BJK

                My one visit to Pomodoro was perhaps my worst restaurant experience ever, certainly one of the "bottom" two or three. I posted about it here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/336400

                My one visit to Artu, though, was fun. The food was good. Had a nice pasta dish with rapini and fresh basil, and the sausages on the antipasto were wonderful.

                1. re: seefood

                  What a shame that that happened on your first visit. I, too, have had among my worst restaurant experiences at Pomodoro and posted about it here:


                  If that had been my only visit, my chances of returning would be between slim and none. But, my visit was after years of thoroughly enjoyable visits, and after a long hiatus, my recent return was similarly rewarding.


            2. Nice job and thanks for all the "hard work"...:)

              1. Another heart-felt thank you. Now we will all just have to print it out and see where we agree..:)

                1. what would be a great place for a group of 10 in the excellent Italian category please?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: phelana

                    I'd guess it depends on things like price point and what kind of food you want to eat. And I'd most definitely make reservations for a group this big, as many North End spots will have problems readily accommodating a group this big right off the street and some can't manage one at all.

                    For expensive and Northern Italian, Prezza and Mamma Maria would be your best bet. For Southern Italian and more modest price points, Antico Forno and Pagliuca's might work, assuming they'll take reservations. Maurizio's is more upscale Southern Italian and may also be an option. The other places listed either likely won't take reservations and/or will probably have size or configuration restraints (Daily Catch for example is tiny, and Giacomo's I'm pretty sure doesn't take reservations). I'd call first to be safe, in any event.

                  2. This research is awe-inspiring in its comprehensiveness. They should make a sticky out of this post. Kudos!

                    As the poster loves and hates many of the same places I do, it looks like a particularly useful guide to me on places I haven't tried. It's where we differ that makes me want to go and re-evaluate certain places, like Giacomo's (an OP "excellent"" -- I dislike the South End outlet, but want to give the North End one a shot now), Terramia (OP "fair" -- it's gone up and down over the years, but was very good on my last visit). It's also a reminder to get to places I've been meaning to forever and haven't, like Waterfront Cafe.

                    Thanks again, bachslunch, for the outstanding work!

                    1. Excellent, Smithers.

                      Although I only agree with about 50% of your rankings, your effort is outstanding and appreciated.

                      1. this is _amazing_. can we talk? i'm a writer and i would like to do a piece on you and this report.
                        617 616 5112. thanks!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: irish breakfast

                          irish breakfast, I'd be very happy to get in touch with you, but am more comfortable doing so via email. Could you provide your contact info? Thanks!

                          1. re: bachslunch

                            great! i'm sorry to be slow in reply. contact me here: darry.madden@gmail.com. I look forward to it.

                        2. Interesting! I wish I'd done it. Never have been that focused. A JOB WELL DONE!

                          1. Bravo, Bravo!! You are going to keep me so well fed while I test your opinions. Thanks for your generous contribution!!

                            1. Very nice body of work. I get sad thinking of the calories that gave their life for your effort. Incidentally I tend to agree with most of your calls. This is a great resource to bookmark for those out of town NE inquiries.

                              1. Great job, this will be very helpful for me - and I'm sure a lot of other people as well. Thank you bachslunch. Now we need something similar for Chinatown!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: steinpilz

                                  Given what I've seen of limster's posts, I'd guess he/she would be an ideal person to do a complete Chinatown.

                                  1. re: bachslunch

                                    Ah. our beloved limster is leaving us for soggier climes....

                                    1. re: bachslunch

                                      The ideal will probably involve a team of 10 or more. (And admittedly, I'm too easily distracted to do something that takes a good amount of discipline.) The cuisines and menus can be vast (and there are often off menu stuff that are somewhat general knowledge because they're classics of the cuisines). With a whole range of cooking techniques and levels (some places do banquet-style dishes as well as more day to day fare), it not easy to get a good picture of how good the place is and how far can the chef really go. For example, I think most hounds are aware that for some of the Cantonese places in Chinatown, with the appropriate negotiations and advance notice, one can probably put together a banquet for ~10 that would cost a hundred or two a person. Most places would likely be able to prepare classic dishes from their own cuisines. I remember asking if the chef at New Shanghai could do a few of them and the one that they suggested was an eel speciality that I've yet to try.

                                  2. Although I don't agree with a few of your findings, that you undertook such a huge endeavor is remarkable on it's own. I'm definitely printing out your list for future reference.
                                    Many thanks for your work!! Parenthetically, I hope your waistline didn't suffer too much.

                                    1. Thanks for taking all the guess work out of the North End!!

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: elissa8009

                                        I don't know how someone can say this when opinions vary so widely. Like MC, I've had some excellent meals at Terramia. The food for my one time at La Brace was quite good (service not so much). Tons of people love Artu. This is a fun survey and can be useful, but i would never say it takes the guess work out of the north end.

                                        1. re: Joanie

                                          <grins> Joanie, if being on Chowhound has taught me nothing else, it's that opinions can vary quite a lot on this board. If you ask me, that's part of the fun.

                                          Okay, I'll give a couple specifics regarding the above. I found La Brace utterly awful when I went, and that doubly included the service. Here's the write up I did not long ago:


                                          I know there are folks who like Artu on this board, but I didn't fare well there at all. To present a specific, I tried ordering a simple pasta with marinara sauce dish there, but the waitress aggressively upsold me to a more expensive version with added calamari ("you can't just get that!" she said). So I went along with it, definite price jump and all. The pasta was overcooked and the dish was horrendously salty. On top of that, I couldn't track down the waitress to fix things after she dropped off the plate -- in fact, it was all I could do to get a check from anyone there.

                                          It's entirely possible that others have done well at these and other places I didn't like (or vice versa), but all I can go on here are my own experiences.

                                          1. re: bachslunch

                                            That's how look at it too. Impressive amount of research and comprehensive. No need for everyone to agree..and of course on some places people won't.

                                            BTW, thought I'd share a tip from a regular at Regina's. I've always ordered the pizza well done. He suggested "stretched and well done"...anyone tried this.

                                            I'll report after I try it

                                            1. re: bachslunch

                                              Oh I wasn't getting on you for any of your opinions, just thought it was weird that someone would think your list was the be all and end all. Some of us have to try things for ourselves, even the ones that are universally ragged on. For instance, someone has to fly the Sonsie flag. And I don't hate Stephanie's, so shoot me.

                                              1. re: Joanie

                                                I think it's a useful report, but I also agree with Joanie that it shouldn't be a "be all, end all" synopsis. Unfortunately, sometimes you hit a restaurant on an off-night, or order a dish that isn't one of their best.....or get a new server who isn't great but then isn't there on your next visit --whatever the reason, that's why restaurant reviewers usually go to a spot at least 3x before reviewing, just so they can be fair when judging a restaurant.

                                                Though I think in general it is a pretty good report, I also think it's a very ambitious undertaking and as a result there are a few ratings that aren't accurate.
                                                I also think Artu is pretty good; think both Trattoria Il Panino and Express should at least be in the good category (and I've been to both many many times), and think both L'Osteria and Cibo are good for what they are..basic red sauce joints...

                                                1. re: Joanie

                                                  Understood. Actually, those two spots are ones that I figured might raise some controversy (Cibo, Terramia, and Il Panino are others), so I thought it might be good to give specifics on them.

                                                  Joanie, I agree with you at least on the desserts at Stephanie's, which I've liked in past, especially the bread pudding. Of course they'd better be good at the prices they charge, but that's another story.

                                          2. Great list; I've spent the past two years trying to get to all the restaurants and have only hit about 40 of them. Too many good ones to go back to. Overall I agree with most of your opinions, except for Artu. I absolutely love their pizzas especially the potato, gorgonzola and prosciutto or the eggplant, riccotta and roasted red peppers.

                                            1. BL, one quick follow up query. You rated Waterfront Cafe as excellent. I'd never even thought of eating there as it seems (from the outside) to be a local pub, watering hole type of joint. My recollection of old CH posts is that it's a pizza-burger-tips kinda menu (a quick check of their website confirms this).

                                              If you would, please check your notes and share what stood out. I'm in the North End enough that I'd be interested in learning more about it, especially as how it rates against others sports bars. Thanks in advance. And, thanks again for this profound body of work.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                                                OK, will do for this one. At all the pub-type places, I got fish with some kind of accompanying item, such as fish and chips, fish cakes and beans, etc. A pub should be able to do something like this, but it also challenges them a little bit. At Waterfront Cafe, I got fried fish with a salad. The fish was by light years the best I got at any pub type place I tried in the North End -- fresh, flaky real fish, probably haddock, like the kind you get at good restaurants coated with a batter that was light but not tissue paper flimsy. And the salad was really good, not your typical bar throw together. I was both surprised and very impressed. Ate at the bar, and the barkeep was of the grumpy old-style-Durgin-Park school, but did fine by me and seemed really happy to get my usual ca. 25% tip.

                                                1. re: bachslunch

                                                  Thanks BL. I will give it a go the next time I need a place to watch the Pats.

                                                  1. re: bachslunch

                                                    The "grumpy old-style-Durgin-Park" bartender is a great description. I think you'll find though, that once he gets to know you, he warms up a bit. He knows me as the person who always orders the stuffed olives, followed by a pizza. The last time I was in, he told me to come in on a Friday when he gets his fresh clams and calamari and he would make me something special. I'm looking forward to it.

                                                    1. re: Pegmeister

                                                      You must be talking about Tony, who is a great guy when you get to know him. We've been going to the Waterfront Cafe for years, through all its incarnations; E even back to the liquor store/cafe days. I love that place. It's a great neighborhood spot to watch the game. I like the pizza, though miss the days when Rocco's mom would make homemade meatballs.

                                                      Impressive list, and I agree with a lot. I think the ones that I disagree with (I think Waterfront Cafe is good with above-average bar food, but I would never put it next to Neptune as excellent, I like Artu, etc.) is due to what's inherent in the scope and breadth of such a comprehensive list - that some places were rated after a single visit, or single dish. I wouldn't order pasta and mariana at Artu Rosticceria - it's actually known for its roasted meats - nex time try their roasted lamb or pork and garlicky marinated eggplant!

                                                      Either way, very impressive. What a gift to the Chowhound community. Thanks, Bachslunch, you're inspirational!

                                                      1. re: Rubee

                                                        Re: Atru - it's no secret that I do like Artu very much. I've had the roasted lamb, pork and eggplant and many other items on the menu. Lovely Italian flavors that I remember from my childhood. That's why I like going there. And everyone is so nice.

                                                        Bachslunch had done an admirable job overall as I said upthread. Thanks so much.

                                                    2. re: bachslunch

                                                      Well that would explain the low ranking for the corner cafe.... I love the burger there, and while its not gourmet, it is one of the best deals in town.

                                                  2. Nice job! Looking forward to your report on the South End! :-)

                                                    1. bachslunch, I agree with eveything you've said here. ;-b

                                                      No, actually, I disagree as far as Cibo, Ricardo's, Il Panino, and Mother Anna's (I like all of them), but I more or less agree on most of the others.

                                                      I was walking through the North End yesterday evening (went to Bova for Italian bread and assorted sweets) and noticed how dead all the restaurants were at around 6:00. I'm around there a lot on weeknights, but I haven't seen it that quiet in a long time. Strange how that happens sometimes...

                                                      1. Nice job!!! Hope you put together something for the South end as well! One thing - I was slightly disappointed to see Filippos on the "poor" list - I have had GREAT experiences there, they have wonderful food, and I love that they serve authentic italian food. Great wine list as well.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: winochick

                                                          Thanks for the kind words. I actually had Filippo's under "fair," not "poor." They're definitely not a destination place for me in the North End (about halfway down my "fair" list), but they're a solid cut above any of the bad spots. One can do a lot worse.

                                                          1. re: bachslunch

                                                            : ) ... so out of everything - what is your FAVORITE place for dinner??

                                                        2. Very helpful, and quite comprehensive-- I think you hit every place in the neighborhood except the pool snack stand! Will you be attending to this list through future visits? One or two visits may not be completely indicative of the restaurant overall, and this list could only get better.

                                                          One point of contention-- Flamepoeira has a kitchen and an extensive food menu, one worthy of being listed in the non-Italian restaurant category.

                                                          1. Thanks, bachslunch! This is a wonderful list for an out-of-towner. I'd love to hear why the ones that were excellent were rated "excellent." Also, winochick asked, overall, which was your favorite one (10/18/07 entry). I 'd love to find out, too. Or, did you rate them in order of preference inside each category, which would make Prezza your number one choice? Anyway, thanks for all your hard work. I will certainly take a print-out of your recommendations on my next trip to Boston.

                                                            1. I disagree about Artu. They make great sandwiches. I just love their spicy vinegary marinated eggplant that they use in their cold cut subs.

                                                              1. We ate at Lucia's last night. In a nutshell, pretty poor service, and mediocre food, as this North End report concurs. Our server was clearly disappointed we had kids (three 12 year old and an 8 year old who were quiter than most of the diners in the restaurant), he refused to take their drink orders until we ordered food. Oddly, he came right over within seconds of us sitting down and took orders from adults for drinks, and stated he would get the kids later. Okay we thought, when he brings ours he will ask the kids. Wrong. We tried to order them drinks and he loudly exclaimed that "I will get the kids orders all together when you order food!" Strange. We were informed this restaurant was family friendly by several dining sites, it couldn't be more wrong unless it was just an off night.

                                                                Portions: pathetic for the price - except for one swordfish entree that was acceptable. The pasta that accomponied traditional italian fair came in one of those tiny bowls you get some of your toppings like ketchup and/or sides of vegetables in places like Dennys. We were not looking for a pound of pasta like some places will serve, just enough to add to the entree. Again, it came in a jell-o bowl from the super buffet...

                                                                Price: WAY overpriced. The bill for a small caprese salad, fried calamari (app.), two sides of gnocchi and one chicken parm, plus the swordfish and two chicken dishes that anywhere else would have been 14-15, and lastly the lobster ravioli (about 8 of them that looked prev. frozen) and ONE bottle of wine (that would be in the bargain bin at the wine-store for 9.99) was $310.00 - that included 4 sodas. We weren't looking for a bargain, we were game to try something new in the North End. This was highway robbery and we won't be back. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the $8.50 lemon sorbet (at Trader joes you can get 4 for $5) that had a slimy black hair in it....

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: rachgrn

                                                                  This is extremely helpful - heading to Boston for a weekend in October and trying Prezza and then coffee/cannolis at Caffe Vittoria!

                                                                  24 Fleet St., Boston, MA 02113

                                                                  Caffe Vittoria
                                                                  296 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113