Where to go in the North End
When regulars start lining up for lunch outside a mysterious storefront at 10:30am, you simply put your head down and follow their lead. The nondescript North End takeout spot turns out consummate Sicilian slices: thick, chewy and square-shaped (never mind cheap as hell). The food is so addictive that even those waiting for a table at nearby sit-down restaurants have been known to make an appetizer out of a slice.
The North End’s most popular seafood option looks and feels exactly as an East Coast raw bar should: tiny, lined with pressed tin, subway tiles, and etched glass. The space exudes retro gleam and unmistakable charm. Expect long waits at peak hours; grab a marble-topped table or a seat at the bar, then work your way through fresh local oysters and perhaps the city’s most lauded lobster roll.
Built in 1680—making it the oldest surviving structure in downtown Boston—the Paul Revere House was the colonial home of Revere during the time of the American Revolution. A National Historic Landmark, it is now operated as a nonprofit museum (open daily to visitors) by the Paul Revere Memorial Association.
This classic North End pizzeria—which could double as a movie set with its well-worn booths and framed celebrity headshots—is the oldest in town, still churning out brick-oven beauties in a convivial atmosphere. (Don’t plan on dinner conversation.) Just be prepared for a legitimate wait thanks to the steady stream of out-of-towners. Bonus points for the cheap, old-school wine options.
This tiny, Italian-owned coffee-seller doesn’t actually serve java to go, but you can’t beat its charm, friendliness and amazing variety of high-quality roasts. Original owner Mr. Polcari and his son Bobby consider themselves museum owners more than baristas, dedicated to preserving the mantle of the neighborhood corner store. Also for purchase are fresh spices, quinoa, bulk Nutella and, in the summer months, tasty lemon slush. Be aware that with its quaintness come some limitations, like being cash-only and closed on Sundays.
Originally called Christ Church in Boston, the city's oldest church was built in 1723, its design inspired by Sir Christopher Wren's London churches. It played a critical role in the earliest days of the American Revolution: it was from Old North's steeple that lanterns were held aloft to warn the Minutemen of the movements of British forces. One lantern was to be displayed if the troops were seen moving by land, two if they were coming in by sea. They came by sea, and two it was, spurring Paul Revere to take his famous midnight ride - although Revere, a Puritan, never worshipped in this Anglican church. The steeple itself wasn't part of the original church, but was added in 1740, with replacement steeples built in 1806 and 1954 after hurricanes tore the previous versions down. In the window where the two lanterns were hung sits a third lantern, lit by President Ford on 18 April 1975, symbolising hope for the nation's next century of freedom. The church's plain white interior also features its original chandeliers, lit for Christmas services, and wooden box pews. These were rented by local families, who were free to decorate them as they chose. The decor and positioning of each family's pew was a sign of their social status, with coveted center pews attracting the highest rents. Today, the church's rich history attracts a steady stream of visitors, and the converted chapel next door houses a tasteful gift shop.
In the hands of a lesser chef-owner, Taranta might have been a mere novelty. Under José Duarte—a visionary in the kitchen and a charmer in the dining room—this southern Italian-Peruvian joint is one of the most consistently exciting (yet warm and relaxing) eateries around. The cross-cultural fusion approach yields dishes including yuca gnocchi with lamb ragù, and pork chops with sugar cane and rocoto pepper glaze. The wine list extends from Sicily, Campania and Apulia to Argentina and Chile.
A true gem in the North End, this rustic but cozy trattoria specializes in creative interpretations of Italian classics. Behind the pane-windowed storefront on Salem Street is a busy trattoria decked out in linens, candlelight and paintings of the Italian countryside. You'll find creative interpretations of seasonally-based classics; the ever-changing menu incorporates seasonal vegetables and the catch of the day. Homemade pasta dishes feature unconventional preparation styles--ravioli is served open-faced, with scallops, shrimp and zucchini, in a lobster mascarpone sauce.
Antico Forno is the genuine article, quietly eschewing red-checked clichés as it upholds Italian-American traditions. From rigatoni with sausage to thin-crust pizza, pretty much anything that emerges from the brick oven—oozing ricotta and proper tomato sauce—is a winner. The pasta plates also please, especially the cloud-soft gnocchi, and the kitchen is open all day for all appetites.
For more than two decades, Improv Asylum has hosted both improv and sketch comedy shows in the heart of the North End. Additionally, the staff hosts classes for local aspiring performers, as well as special custom shows and corporate training programs. Shows usually take place seven nights a week, with multiple offerings on Fridays and Saturdays. Midnight shows, regularly offered on weekends, see the kid gloves removed in favor of risqué, R-rated fare.
When people talk about the true character of the 'old' North End, chances are they’re envisioning the Daily Catch. It’s essentially a kitchen nook with a blackboard menu, juice glasses in lieu of stemware, and skillets that double as plates. It doesn’t take credit cards, or even have a bathroom. But boy, has it got calamari—fried, stuffed, marinated and chilled, chopped and pressed into delicious meatballs. Squid ink, meanwhile, gives the linguine a kick, as does garlic galore.
Prezza combines the urbane musculature of a downtown steakhouse with the intimacy of the trattorias that surround it—which is why you’ll glimpse as many back-slapping businessmen at the bar as you will couples canoodling in the booths. Hefty, expertly wood-grilled proteins compete for attention with delicate, hand-made pastas.
Part of North End restaurateur Frank DePasquale’s local empire, Mare’s calling card is the crudo menu, best enjoyed on the sleek patio with fire pits and a retractable roof (making year-round alfresco dining possible). The kitchen preps a variety of Italian-accented seafood dishes. A handful of non-seafood options (chicken, pork, veal, steak) appeals to landlubbers.
Shake the Tree delights with its highly browsable combination of clothing, accessories, unusual toiletries, stationery, and decorative homewares. With its assortment of locally-made jewelry and gifts, the shop is a favorite option among local residents.
It’s all about the tortas here, the traditional Mexican pressed sandwich made with Telera bread. The sandwich’s meat or vegetarian base is generously topped with Oaxaca cheese, chipotle mayo, onions, avocado and tomatoes. Rest assured that the requisite tacos, quesadillas, and burritos are all here too, along with Mexican sodas for the full experience.
As the most noteworthy wine shop in the North End—a neighborhood renowned for its food and drink—the Wine Bottega does its part by only selling natural wines. Local residents stop in for Friday night tastings (free) and monthly classes (for a fee). An articulate staff with a passion for the innovative and the undiscovered guarantees that the range of its inventory surpasses the shop’s actual size.
This two-story restaurant is a throwback gem, with penny tiles, cafe-style seating, oversized windows and a neon sign out front. Though seasonally driven, the menu does right by the evergreen classics such as clam chowder, lobster rolls, and raw bar offerings. The tucked-away bar in back is the place to drink your way through the small but potent cocktail list.