The North End is one of Boston’s biggest tourist attractions. It’s rich history can make it feel like you are taking a step back in time. The North End is also known for its Italian food. With endless spots to get fresh pasta and an espresso martini, the options are overwhelming. Our hot take is we think that the best Italian food isn’t in the North End, but in its surrounding neighborhoods. Although the North End experience is hard to replicate, the food is easy to top (and prices are too). In this guide, we are going to explore our favorite Italian food spots outside of the tourist trap that is Boston’s North End.
The creation of Boston area chef Dave Becker, Sweet Basil takes Italian to the next level in more ways than one. The pasta/linguine is some of the best we’ve had (not just in Boston, in Italy too). There is something about homemade pasta done right that just hits different. Usually when there is this level of quality you can expect small portions, but here it’s the opposite. These plates are massive. We are talking “split an entree with your date and still have leftovers” massive. But of course, that didn’t stop us from each getting our own plate.
The seafood fra diavolo might be our new favorite dish. This huge plate has mussels, the fish of the day, and calamari all covered in spicy marinara on top of a mountain of linguine. We also had to try the classics, shrimp scampi and bolognese, which were both knocked out of the park. If either of those are your go-to dish, then you won’t find it better than at Sweet Basil. The white wine sauce is light and buttery with a garlic kick to it. Also, if the lamb shank catches your eye then go for it, because it is as tender and gamey as can be. Just because you are at an Italian spot it doesn’t mean you have to get pasta. Anything Sweet Basil does is done with the highest of quality.
MIDA is all the vibes of the North End without the crowds and tourists. You have your espresso martinis and all the classics here.
When there is short rib anything on the menu it’s hard not to order that. The short rib lasagna was not your grandma’s Stouffer’s lasagna. It was unbelievably tender, and packed a ton of flavor into every bite. After having this version, there’s no going back to ground beef for us. For apps we went with one classic and one outside our typical order, and were pleased with both. For our usual we tried calamari, which was exceptional. Served with a spicy dipping sauce, it was spot on with crispiness and seasoning. We also decided to try the focaccia, which was light, airy, and covered with garlic butter and grated parm. This place has all the class of the North End without the tourist mark up.
We won’t bury the lede here: NUTELLA PIZZA.
This isn’t just your classic pizza doused with Nutella. Instead of sauce, it is almost calzone-like with the top drenched in hazelnut goodness– and then as you bite in you discover the middle is filled with it too. Our only critique is perhaps it needs more fruit on top, but other than that it’s worth a trip to Moody Street just for that alone. We also enjoyed their take on arancini, which was served with three small balls as opposed to a large one (which has been our experience at most spots around Boston). These cheese balls were like fancy mozzarella sticks, and we could have chugged the house made sauce they sat in from a funnel. For our main dish, we tried the chicken parm. It wasn’t a huge piece a of chicken, but it was fried to perfection and had plenty of that same delicious sauce that was served with the arancini.
Lastly, Charcoal Guido’s espresso martinis were on point, and the vibe was perfect for a casual date night.