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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.

--Bakeries
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.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          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.

            :)
            BK

            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:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/150204

                  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.

                  BK

            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.