In Boston, when people crave Italian cuisine, their minds automatically go to the bustling, festive streets of The North End, where New England meets Little Italy. However, many of the best Italian restaurants are also located far from the reaches of Hanover and Salem Street.
Hidden amongst the crooked streets of the Bay Village since 2008, on the cusp of the Back Bay/South End border is one of Boston’s Italian gems. Erbaluce, headed by chef Charles Draghi, showcases a menu that changes nightly to reflect the most seasonal ingredients. Everything is made in house, including delicious pastas and wonderful risottos.The cuisine is simple Italian, nothing ostentatious, with each ingredient being used with intention and purpose.
This gem is indeed located in the North End, but off of the main street of Hanover. Settle into this tiny spot for nightly specials and do not leave without one or two of their pasta dishes. Any seasonal appetizer or buratta is a good way to start.
Gnocchi at Trattoria di Monica (credit: Trattoria di Monica)
From the famed Ken Oringer and Jamie Bisonnette duo, you can enjoy Italian small plates on a quiet corner in the South End. For lunch and dinner on weekdays and brunch on Saturday and Sunday, classic Italian dishes are accented with some of Chef Jamie’s culinary inspirations from around the world. Their Sicilian fisherman’s pizza, orecchiette pasta with chicken sausage, and local burrata are solid orders. Try something more adventurous like their tripe and snails or wood oven roasted pig bones and tails.
Another gem off Hanover street in the North End is Carmen Restaurant. Tiny but effecient, you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the restroom. Their cioppino is one of the best around and should they have fried zuchinni florets as a special, don't hesitate.
In Boston's booming Fort Point neighborhood, you'll fine restaurant empire and chef Barbara Lynch's Sportello restaurant. With their bakery-turned-wine bar, you can go all out Italian here. Just make sure you order their rabbit strozzapreti — it is without a doubt one of the top pasta dishes in Boston.
Another wonderful Italian treat, again hidden away from most foot traffic, is James Beard Award winning chef Jody Adam’s Rialto. Inside the Charles River Hotel, Rialto’s menu highlights regional Italian cuisine, shifting every couple of months to focus on a different area. Seafood dishes are wonderfully prepared and definite highlights, as is the extensive wine list, with a comforting offering of Italian vineyards… and do not leave without a glass of grappa to top off what will be a delightful meal. In the good weather, request a seat outdoors on their lovely veranda.
Chocolate cheesecake at Rialto (credit: Rialto)
With two locations in Boston, Toscano is a solid option for Italian dining. Originally on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, Toscano has since opened up a second location in Harvard Square. The latter has a wonderful, classic Italian feel, with a beautiful bar area with large windows opening up onto Brattle Street. Homemade pastas and fresh and simple tasting seafood are all great choices. However, their nightly specials often offer something a little different, created by the culinary team.
Perhaps the most hidden and overlooked Italian restaurant in Boston is Trattoria Toscano. On a small street near the Fens, this is the kind of place you could easily stumble upon one day and miss the next, which is a huge shame considering the authentic Italian experience you will have here. Very small, with a kitchen almost in the dining room itself, the food presented here, along with the service, is quintessential Italian. Any of their pastas are wonderful, and their daily antipasto makes for the perfect start to a meal. Whether you reserve for a large, family-style dinner, or wish to share this special place with one special person, you will feel transported.
Our list of Italian spots would be incomplete without a shout out to sister/brother duo Chef Azita Bina-Seibel and Babak Bina's Charles street wine bar. With a small menu designed to accompany their 60 glass and 200 bottle strong international wine list, this is an ideal spot to spend hours enjoying the company of friends and family Italian-style.
A Somerville institution since 2009, Posto is New England’s only Verace Pizza Napoletana (Naples Certified) Pizzeria. What began as a classic Neapolitan, wood-fired pizzeria, has since turned into much more with a complete and rotating menu. You can expect a new menu and a wonderfully revamped, all-Italian wine list. A meal at Posto will be comfortable and casual, but with the attention to detail found at Boston’s most fine dining institution. This is a must visit…or re-visit!
So the next time you are in the market for an Italian experience, venture outside of the North End comfort zone…it will be worth it!