Many diners seeking the best pizza in Boston simply head to North End, the city's "Little Italy." But the best Italian restaurants in Boston, serving the kind of pasta and veal scaloppine that you're constantly craving, can actually be found all over town. So, the next time you're searching for Italian fare after perusing the best Boston attractions, consult our handy little guide. And, in true Italian spirit, don't forget to have yourself a nice glass of red at one of the best wine bars in Boston before dinner.
Best Italian restaurants in Boston
Although the word "timeless" is much bandied about by No.9's admirers, Barbara Lynch's flagship can also (despite its head-on view of Boston Common) seem oddly placeless, thanks to its sleekly cosmopolitan air. The former mansion's good looks demonstrate how "smooth" and "sharp" can be synonyms; the service—from the remarkable bartenders to the splendid sommelier, Cat Silirie—hits the heights of professionalism. And the French/Italian-based cuisine? Rarely less than luscious, for all its elegance—especially the finely wrought pastas.
Reflecting chef Charles Draghi’s steadfast belief in letting key ingredients speak for themselves, the handwritten menu reads like an ode to the Earth’s bounty: parsnip gnocchi in wild-boar ragu here; a salad of escarole and arugula with pears in pistachio-ginger dressing there; roasted meats in the vegetable-, fruit- and jus-based sauces he calls succos, mostos and leccos everywhere. Accompanied by gracious sommelier/co-owner Joan Johnson’s sparkling wine list (the restaurant’s named for a white Piedmontese varietal), it makes for an experience that’s no less exhilarating for being so restful.
Chef-owner Michael Pagliarini and his wife Pamela Ralston pamper their guests with a warm welcome, friendly, professional service and killer pastas that are hand-made by day on a custom-made table used to accommodate large groups at night. Brick walls and candlelight keep the vibe romantic and rustic. The all-Italian wines pair well with the dishes, which are often inspired by the chef’s travels to Italy. Diners who gawk at others’ plates quickly get recommendations. Try the popular pappardelle with wild boar or spaghetti alle vongole—both are al dente, flavorful and prove Pagliarini’s mettle. As good as the pastas and secondi are, though, you won’t want to forgo dessert—in particular, the chocolate terrine.
Here is proof that simple cuisine can be one of life’s greatest gustatory pleasures. Chef Colin Lynch, a Barbara Lynch protege, whips up straightforward coastal Italian fare that is still a marvel, from his daily changing crudo menu to an expansive list of home-made pastas (the lobster paccheri and bone marrow risotto are two standouts). But unexpectedly, it might be the crostinis that are the true stars here: grilled Iggy’s bread, topped with caviar and lardo, or ricotta and peperonata, or chicken liver, bacon and onion—savory flavor punches all. You’d expect a strong wine and cocktail list at a spot like this—and Bar Mezzana delivers—but another surprise is the well-curated beer list, perfect for a quick after-work stopover.
Tucked away in Fort Point, Chef Barbara Lynch's sleek iteration of the classic diner offers up supremely tasty trattoria-inspired Italian cuisine. Sit at the large communal counter that showcases the action in the kitchen, or grab a bite to-go from the bakery counter's rotating selection of pastries, soups and sandwiches and find a bench along the channel for a waterside picnic.
Not familiar with a Bacaro? It’s a Venetian wine bar and it has incongruously—but gloriously—arrived in the South End. SRV (Serene Republic of Venice) splits its loyalties between small plates and homemade pastas, which means after you’ve filled up on beef carpaccio, smoked sea trout and cheeses aplenty, you can move on to sweet potato tortelli, squid ink bucatini and clam risotto. Chefs Kevin O'Donnell and Michael Lombardi mill their own pasta flour in-house using organic durum wheat berries, which explains why even the simpler pasta dishes are so revelatory. Once you’ve sampled the talents of the kitchen, return with a posse for the Arsenale menu, which puts the entire table in the hands of the kitchen.
It’s the South End restaurant we didn’t know we needed. Tucked inside a corner space that has already seen several restaurants come and go, Mida doesn’t so much cook Italian fare as take its cue from it. Chef/owner Douglass Williams has prioritized three things: ingredients, wine and hospitality. Dishes are made to share, from the lardo and crudo, to appetizers like spicy lamb ribs, to the handmade ricotta gnocchi and grilled sirloin cap. The wine list skews towards Northern Italian and French bottles and features lesser known producers. And, of course, classic Italian cocktails like the Negroni are expertly prepared.
With name chefs blowing in and out of its kitchen, this dark, suave neighborhood pioneer of alta cucina has hit its share of rough patches over the years. But its capacity for comebacks is astounding. Give it a go when you're feeling flush—chances are you'll score some marvelously silky pasta (the meatball-studded timpano is a wonder), rounded out by intriguing seasonal contorni-like foie gras-laced butternut squash or potatoes mashed with pink grapefruit. Meanwhile, the allure of the obscure tints the all-Italian wine list.
If you could build your perfect romantic restaurant out of thin air, it might look a lot like Fat Hen: Lilliputian and book-lined, with a cocktail window attached to sister restaurant La Brasa from which your drink orders magically appear. And then there’s an Italian menu lovingly committed to seasonal and regional ingredients. The menu changes regularly, but a typical meal might begin with stuffed mushrooms and fluke crudo before moving on to a Jonah crab and bacon spaghetti, or maybe the chicken al mattone. If you want to eat authentically—aka family style—the kitchen is happy to cook a four-course feast for the entire table.
The criminally undersung Brookline Village restaurant—a favorite spot of Patriots QB Tom Brady—keeps it warm and boisterous with Northern Italian specialties like cicchetti, sweet potato sformato, rabbit and polenta lasagna, and wood grilled cornish hen. Chef Josh Zizkin’s tagliatelle Bolognese are renowned among local pasta connoisseurs and the restaurant’s nightly four-course prezzo fisso menu is one of the best deals in town ($40, plus $20 for wine pairings).