If food wasn't already the focal point of your existence before you set foot in the North End — Boston's trattoria- and ristorante-packed answer to Little Italy — it certainly will be for the duration of your time here. The scent of marinara sauce wafts inescapably over the neighborhood that juts into the harbor on the north side of the city. Congested and lively, find a jumble of Italian restaurants, grocers and pastry shops lining every inch of storefront space.
To really get the flavor of this, the oldest part of Boston, walk down Hanover Street at noontime, when traffic stops and restaurant owners, deliverymen and police officers shoot the bull on street corners. Or come out on one of the Italian Feast Days (usually on Sundays during the
summer) and watch the congregations of different churches and
community clubs which attempt to outdo each other with lavish parades full of floats and sizzling Italian sausage.
But the best meals in the North End aren’t found on the street; for that, put your name in for a table at welcoming, casual trattorias like Prezza, Bricco, Lucca and Sage for delicate hand-rolled pastas and flavorful grilled meat dishes. Meanwhile, sophisticated and authentic regional Italian fixings are the draw at Mare, Mamma Maria, Tresca and countless other refined, romantic spots. Many places in the neighborhood don't take credit cards or serve dessert, so come with cash, then, after dinner, plan on a trip to any of the area's excellent pastry shops or gelaterias
for coffee and a little something sweet.
Every bit as historic and no less charming, Charlestown sits just across the Zakim Bridge from the North End, rising above its navy yard with
zig-zagging streets leading up to the Bunker Hill Monument. Along the way, pristine Colonial townhouses give way to bistros like Figs (the
original location in the phenomenally successful gourmet pizza chain) and Moroccan outpost Tangierino. Then, of course, there’s Olives — the restaurant that launched renowned chef Todd English's career decades ago, that has, for food lovers, become as much a monument as Bunker Hill itself.