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Italian restaurants that would impress an Italian in Boston and/or Central MA

Hi--The boyfriend is coming to visit. He's born and raised in northern Italy, though lives in Mexico right now.

He's not a terrible food snob, but he's...Italian. And he's missing Italian food. On a previous trip we spent a little time in the North End and he found it really charming--we got pizza at Regina's (which he thought was great) and went to a couple Italian specialty shops, which he also loved.

My question: which Italian restaurants would you take an Italian to in Boston? And I actually live in Worcester (I'm in school), so I'd also love any suggestions in central MA. I don't mind driving.

Thanks so much! M.

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  1. If he's missing traditional Northern cuisine, I'd bring him to Erbaluce first. Gran Gusto does a very traditional take on Campanian, the North End Daily Catch, the same for Sicilian. Ribelle features a very creative American chef's take on Italian cuisine, quite untraditional, but very good. Another American doing an eclectic mix of regional cuisines (including wood-fired pizza) with an emphasis on small plates, really fine, is Coppa. If he wants a quality version of Italian-American cuisine, I might bring him to L'Osteria or Massimino's. For another pizza stop, consider Picco.


    14 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      That's a great list, MC. I'd add La Morra for its Venetian slant and maybe Il Casale.

      1. re: MC Slim JB

        i would recommend ribelle; if he is from italy, he does not need to try traditional italian cooking.

        Or i would go out and try something completely different.

        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

          Since "he's missing Italian food" I think traditional is probably good.

          Not sure that Erbaluce is quite authentic (I think we've been through this before). He'd likely enjoy Pasta Beach or Trattoria Toscana as long as the latter doesn't have the dryer exhaust coming into the dining room.

          On the higher end- Mamma Maria is excellent.

          1. re: Beachowolfe

            I had one of the worst Italian meals in my experience of the last few years in Boston at Pasta Beach a few months ago. An expensive bust.

            I'd love to hear some recent reports on Trattoria Toscana. I'm nervous about it since Zamir Kociaj left.


              1. re: Gabatta

                Does the name of a place reflect the quality of the meal?

                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                  totally shouldn't, but i'm willing/embarrassed to admit both that the name has contributed to me not giving it a shot, and, psychologically, i'd probably hold it to higher expectations (eg i'd be looking for a reason to say "god well with a name like pasta beach of course it turned out to be not great"). maybe on a slightly more principled position, you could draw a correlation that if someone comes up with a name you really don't like, it may say something about the kind of atmosphere/food they will put out

                  but that would be ahead of time, not actually during the meal, and also of course these things are contextual- maybe the title is meant to be super tongue in cheek, or has some sentimental attachment, and i just don't know enough about the place...

                  1. re: valcfield

                    I've never tried the Boston Pasta Beach to be truthful, but the Newport Pasta Beach is quite excellent. I believe it's the same owners, but I am not positive. (And I agree that the name fits better perhaps in Newport than Boston)

              2. re: MC Slim JB

                That seems out of the ordinary, it's been generally positively reviewed here and my own experience follows suit. Believe it's also one of the few places where the Italian ex-pats tend to frequent. Maybe I'm remembering incorrectly?

                I also don't recall it being "insultingly expensive", have prices gone up?

                Maybe you caught them on an off day, it happens.

                1. re: Beachowolfe

                  I'd heard those things, too. Sample size of one, but it was bad from start to finish.


                  1. re: Beachowolfe

                    The expats (the consulate is nearby) go to Pasta Beach for the pizza primarily (though now there are more places doing this type of pizza whereas before it was pretty much Pasta Beach or Gran Gusto) which in my experience they execute pretty well.

                    It's definitely not expensive by Boston standards and a lot more solid than some of the places mentioned here though I wouldn't make a special trip for it.

                2. re: Beachowolfe

                  You know, I have no idea of what is "authentic." My friends from Aosta in the Piedmont love Erbaluce. I don't know whether that's because its authentic or just very good.

                  1. re: teezeetoo

                    i'd go for good over authentic any day, and i was really knocked out by Ribelle.

                    1. re: teezeetoo

                      Actually, Aosta is not in Piedmont. Aosta is the capital of Valle d'Aosta another region norh of Piedmont.

              3. I really like Terramia, and it's not spoken of here all that often so it might go unnoticed. Never had a bad meal there. If he's got the itch, this place will scratch it.


                2 Replies
                  1. re: CapeCodGuy

                    Was at Terramia recently and enjoyed it but wasn't blown away. What are the best things there?

                  2. I love the (mostly) Tuscan West Medford gem - Bistro 5.


                    1. How's Prezza these days? I feel like at some point it was thrown around in these sorts of recs as a good but expensive place.

                      also, @teezeetoo, that's one of the reasons i vastly prefer saying 'traditional' as opposed to 'authentic' is that, though they can perhaps be equally subjective, 'traditional' (in my mind) at least sounds less like one is trying to say that something is intrinsically good *because* of that quality, whereas 'authentic' to me implies anything else is a fraud/inferior/etc. :)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: valcfield

                        I also think it's easier to triangulate on a set of ingredients, techniques, and styles as falling into a broad culinary tradition, one that has room for different levels of formality, an understanding of home vs. restaurant cooking, regional and familial variations, as done natively vs. in exile, period variations (e.g., 1960s vs. 2010s), etc.

                        By contrast, authenticity seems to imply an assertion of some kind of authority to certify, to grant sanctioned status. Where does one earn the credentials to bless what is "real"?


                        1. re: valcfield

                          even if its food of the culture I was raised in, it's only my family's take on that food. I like "traditional" valcfield, and even that requires a reasonable degree of knowledge. I've travelled extensively and I can recognize generalities, but especially in Italy I note that food can vary from village to village using the same ingredients with lovely different outcomes. So I always am suspicious of "authentic." Why not say whether you like it or don't and why?

                        2. Massamino's on Endicott St In the North End

                          1. My North Italian friends (from around Venice) found the only place that had "traditional" Italian pizza to be Basta Pasta, in Cambridgeport.

                            They tried a lot of places, too.

                            I've never been to Basta Pasta, so can't say what it was about the pizza there that made the cut.

                            Actually, now I have to check it out.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: femmevox

                              I wonder if those from southern Italy would agree. To me, the pizza was night and day in Italy, north vs. south. Naples is the epicenter of incredible pizza IMHO.

                              1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                You know, I thought the same thing capecod. After being in Naples last year I was pretty sure I'd died and gone to pizza heaven and I've had pretty crappy pizza in northern italy (I find it difficult to get anything but good fish in Venice for example).

                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                  They actually praised it for being like Neopolitan pizza, not like pizza in Venice. But I believe the poster's Italian was also from the North--that's why i included it.

                                  1. re: femmevox

                                    I like Basta Pasta's pasta so I'm going to give their pizza a try next time we're in the neighborhood.

                                2. re: CapeCodGuy

                                  A lot of the pizza I saw whilst walking around Naples was topped with hot dogs and french fries. I wonder how blasted a place would be here for doing something so "inauthentic"

                                  1. re: jgg13

                                    Lol....only because that's what some Italians think Americans want. Although I'm guessing saying "a lot" is a bit of hyperbole to make your point, no self respecting Neapolitan would ever have either on their pizza. In fact, real Neapolitan Pizza wouldn't even have pepperoni. The AVPN, or Associazione Verace Pizza Napoleta, the official organization devoted to protecting "true" pizza and certifying it's makers, the only allowable ingredients are San Marzano tomatoes, the Tipo "00" flour, fresh mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. That's it. And there are many rules regarding how the crust is made, how the shell is formed, and how the pizza is cooked. But of course, many pizza restaurants in Naples aren't certified. Certainly not the ones who put hot dogs and fries on them.

                                    While in Como, up north, I was once asked if I wanted pickles on my pizza! I declined, and it was still one of the wost pizza's I've ever had in my life.

                                    1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                      We have a good local ex-pat representative of Neapolitan style here: Giuseppe Castellano at Gran Gusto. He offers more options than just the canonical Margherita, but famously refuses to do American-style ingredient pile-ups on his pies, which I think is great. I can only imagine his reaction to the notion of hot dogs and fries atop one of his pizzas.


                                      1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                        It was an amusing site, no doubt. I'd say it appeared to be more street food than tourist food, as we were off the beaten path and this was far from the only thing to get the hot dog & fry treatment from the street vendors & little markets. But yes, you're right that these were by no means "real" pizza shops there

                                3. I just had a great meal at Grotto on Bowdoin street, in the shadow of the State House. You'll need to make reservations, but the prix fixe meal was very tasty and beautifully presented.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                    Just as a counterpoint, I found Grotto's food to be uninspired and ill-prepared.

                                  2. I recommend L'Impasto (translation=the dough) in North Cambridge on Mass Ave. The pasta is made fresh each day, the bread is homemade and the choices I have sampled so far fail to disappoint - calamari fritti, stuffed zucchini blossoms,bucatini alla matriciana, rigatoni with meatballs, paccheri with clams, mussels and shrimp in a cherry tomato sauce, gnochetti sardi pasta with lamb ragu, chicken parmigiana with spaghetti. There's one special appetizer and entree each evening. Yes, it's small with a short wine list. The chef/owner is from Rome cooks in an open kitchen assisted by one waiter.
                                    The owner doesn't take reservations.encourages you to call ahead, tell him how many are in your party and when you'll arrive. Give it a try!

                                    1. Massaminos Endicott St Boston North End, check out thier web site, food is great prices are reasonable.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. Another recommendation is for Quattro on Hanover St in the North End. Was there on Friday night, and everyone working there is so friendly, even the chef in the open kitchen. They had an amazing looking veal chop special that soon sold out; we wish we'd gotten it but instead had the grilled fish special, oricchetti with homemade sausage and broccoli rabe, and chicken ravioli with mushroom cream sauce. It was hard to pick, wanted to try more.

                                        ETA: he might like going to the roofdeck at Fiore after, or for vin santo and cookies at Bricco across the street.

                                          1. My boss is from Padua, and likes Toscano on Charles Street...

                                            1. I enjoy Erbaluce, La Morra, and Pomodoro.

                                              I've seen recommendations for Ribelle and that just makes me cringe in pain unless something has drastically changed in the year since I went. Ungodly priced, with at least one dish being some self-centered starving artist version of something that was beautiful, yet had no taste (I'm looking at you "shortribs") I might try it again, but when even tiny jelly-jar glasses of non craft beer costs $6 in Brookline something is very wrong with a place in my opinion.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: nukular

                                                I lived much of my life in Italy and have been to all the places mentioned here in my time in Boston.

                                                All of the people I know in the expat community who are into food agree that Ribelle is great and very creative. I would take an Italian who wants to see a creative version of Italian food here.

                                                The other place I would recommend highly is Giulia and again I also go there often with Italian friends and visitors and it is justly highly regarded. It's less idiosyncratic than Ribelle but very well thought out and executed.

                                                I definitely would not recommend many of the places mentioned on here (places like Toscano, Pomodoro, Grotto etc).

                                                1. re: retrofabulousity

                                                  i've had 2 utterly meh dinners at grotto, both of which included appallingly amateurish service. if you don't know how to use a corkscrew, go work at the cheesecake factory ffs. literally had to open the bottle myself.

                                                  just because somebody is from italy that doesn't automatically make them a food expert. plenty of shit food everywhere. somebody from california isn't automatically a wine expert either, ya know?

                                                  and yes, i know this thread is from last year.

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    An Italian friend recommended Gran Gusto to me - I loved it!