From old-school red sauce joints, to chic seafood, to soulful reinterpretations of classic comforts.
By Jacqueline Cain and Scott Kearnan·
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Big bowls of pasta, rich sauces, fresh ingredients, ever-flowing wine—there are many reasons diners can’t get enough Italian food. The classic cuisine is expansive, thanks to the regional diversity of Italy and the country’s outsized influence on dining culture in the U.S. From the North End to Southie, Somerville to Dorchester, and Chelsea to Allston, here’s our guide to the reliably best Italian restaurants in Boston.
Fresh crudo and cocktails at Bar Mezzana. / Photo by Adam DeTour
Chef Colin Lynch’s oft-changing crudo preparations are where to start at this coastal Italian-inspired stunner. But the house-made pastas, vibrant salads, and even well-composed fancy toasts are also works of simple perfection.
360 Harrison Ave., South End, Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com.
Photo via Facebook used with permission
Carlo’s Cucina Italiana
It’s been a family-friendly (and just plain friendly) favorite for more than 45 years thanks to homestyle fare like calamari Veneziana (sautéed with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, cherry peppers, and olives and smothered in a sweet tomato sauce), and house-made fusilli with garlicky broccoli rabe.
131 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-254-9759, carloscucinaitaliana.com.
Contessa. / Photo by Douglas Friedman
Landing a table at Contessa is one of the toughest gambits in town—but as our own restaurant critic discovered during his visits, it’s absolutely worth the effort. The first Boston restaurant from NYC-based Major Food Group, whose portfolio includes Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, Contessa is a glitzy rooftop destination at the Newbury Hotel. The big buzz and stunning views through walls of windows might get you in the door, but the fantastic and highly-finessed contemporary Italian cuisine—sumptuous pastas (spicy lobster capellini), fancified pizzas (topped with littleneck clams or black truffle, perhaps) and a signature Florentine-style steak for two—will keep you coming back. If you can score one of the scorching-hot seats, that is.
3 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-5700, thenewburyboston.com/dine/contessa.
The Italian grinder at Coppa. / Photo provided
More than a decade in, the menu at this South End enoteca is still consistently creative and well-executed, from the blistered pizzas to the hand made pastas (such as a fusilli with fennel sausage, seared escarole, and a white bean ragu). As the name suggests, though, co-chef-owner Jamie Bissonnette is a snout-to-tail master—so go ahead, please order the Italian grinder.
253 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com.
Pappardelle at Delfino. / Photo by Kelsey Cronin for Best of Boston 2016
It’s not because of the limited restaurant options in Roslindale that this cozy trattoria is busy every night. It has everything to do with warm, welcoming service, and the generous portions of Italian cuisine, like thick ribbons of pappardelle with shrimp and arugula, and a hearty take on bruschetta, which tops grilled sourdough with eggplant tapenade, goat cheese, and cherry tomatoes.
754 South St., Roslindale Village, 617-327-8359, delfinorestaurant.com.
Geppetto. / Photo by Brian Samuels Photography
Chef-owner Will Gilson’s new Italian restaurant was the highly anticipated capstone to a three-venue project in a single Cambridge neighborhood. It has quickly established itself as a standout, thanks to elegant crudos, shareable feasts (such as pork chop Milanese swabbed with caper-and-lemon brown butter), and a fantastic house made pasta program overseen by Tony Susi, whose Sage restaurants were important forerunners of Boston’s contemporary Italian scene. (Oh, the room-roving amaro cart doesn’t hurt, either.)
100 North First St., Cambridge,thelexingtoncx.com/geppetto.
Frutti di mare. / Photo courtesy of La Famiglia Giorgio’s
La Familia Giorgio’s
The Giorgio family ensures everyone in your family leaves happy and full with a huge menu featuring huge portions. Try the meaty bolognese, the spicy fra diavolo, or the creamy pesto sauces—and know that the $3 up-charge for one of the house-made pasta selections is always worth it. There are also gluten-free pastas and pizzas.
112 Salem St., North End, Boston, 617-367-6711, lafamigliagiorgios.com.
Fox & the Knife’s saffron-tinted spaghetti with clams. / Brian Samuels Photography
Fox & the Knife
This Southie stunner from James Beard Award-winning chef Karen Akunowicz produces soulful fare from its open kitchen that earned it three-and-a-half stars in our pages, as well as a Food & Wine Best New Restaurant nod. Everything about the place is an ode to the traditions Akunowicz took to heart during a formative year cooking in Modena, from the must-order taleggio-stuffed focaccia, to the comforting, saffron-flecked spaghetti con vongole, to the daily aperitivo-hour snacks and sips. (Interested in Akunowicz’s take on Southern Italian fare? Swing by Fox’s brand-new, one-block-away sibling, Bar Volpe.)
28 W. Broadway, South Boston, 617-766-8630, foxandtheknife.com.
Giulia chef-owner Michael Pagliarini. / Photo by Erik Jacobs
One of Cambridge’s hardest reservations to secure is a seat at chef Michael Pagliarini’s first solo spot. That’s because of his pasta mastery—rustic, textured noodles that hold onto buttery sauces and earthy accoutrements. If you’re lucky, may the seat you finally get be one at the chef’s counter, which is also where Pagliarini’s team rolls out their fresh pasta every day.
1682 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge, 617-441-2800, giuliarestaurant.com.
Tagliatelle al ragú at La Morra in Brookline. / Photo by Isara Krieger
Head off the beaten path to this Brookline Village trattoria, an under-heralded gem for more than 15 years. Chef-owner Josh Ziskin’s seasonal, northern Italian cuisine exudes rustic, refined comfort. See: lasagne with rabbit and crispy polenta, the signature tagliatelle Bolognese, and the wood-grilled hen under a brick.
48 Boylston St., BrooklineVillage, 617-739-0007, lamorra.com.
Chef-owner Douglass Williams of Mida. / Photo by Christopher Churchill for Best Restaurants in Boston
We often find ourselves popping into chef Douglass Williams’s South End neighborhood spot to see what inspired, seasonal flavors chef-owner Douglass Williams is cooking up. The pastas are indeed the stars, but the rich focaccia; assured entrees, like roasted chicken with mushroom risotto and guanciale-mustard vinaigrette; and oft-changing flavors of gelato are among the many reasons to return. (Mida’s newer location in Newton, meanwhile, offers a couple additional reasons: Roman- andNew Haven-style pizzas.)
782 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-936-3490, midaboston.com.
Pammy’s in Cambridge has updated its dining room with stylish table dividers to enhance guest safety. / Photo by Pat Piasecki
Why do we love Pammy’s? Let us count the ways: First, there’s chef Chris Willis’s superb prix fixe menus, full of sophisticated, contemporary Italian notions like scallop crudo with garlic aioli and saffron citronette, or honeynut squash agnolotti with nori butter and blistered sunflower seeds. Then there’s the superlative vino and outstanding cocktails that flow at the bar (where a la carte ordering is allowed), thanks to wine director Katie Hubbard and bar manager Rob Hicks. Finally, there’s the option to take home canned sauces and bottles of house-made Meyer limoncello. Ah, Pammy’s—that’s amore.
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761,pammyscambridge.com.
Red snapper Milanese at Prezza. / Photo courtesy of Prezza
Chef Anthony Caturano’s rustic, peasant-style dishes, like grilled littleneck clams with sausage, braised short rib, and the singular raviolo di uovo have stood the test of time in the crowded North End. Amid all the (many, many) other Italian joints in the neighborhood, Prezza has remained a singular standout for more than 20 years, even as Caturano has expanded with two North Shore restaurants, called Tonno.
24 Fleet St., North End, Boston, 617-227-1577, prezza.com.
Guy Fieri memorably devoured lobster ravioli at Rino’s Place in East Boston. / Lobster ravioli at Rino’s Italian by Rachel + Micah on Flickr / Creative Commons
This10-table spotis worth the inevitable wait. Second-generation chef-owner Anthony DiCenso’s lobster-stuffed ravioli is a menu standout, but the house-made potato gnocchi, linguine with calamari and marinara, eggplant Parmigiana over house-made rigatoni, or really anything on the menu will hit the spot. The portions are huge, the prices are reasonable, and Guy Fieri is a huge fan. Need we say more?
258 Saratoga St., East Boston, 617-567-7412,rinosplace.com.
The chic dining room at Sorellina.
Swanky, elegant, and distinctive, chef-owner Jamie Mammano’s regional Italian restaurant is a Copley Square gem, thanks to high-touch service like expert wine recs and gratis chocolate truffles at the end of the meal. Celebrate special moments with show-stopping plates like the bone-in veal Milanese over soft polenta; lamb chops with celery root and pomegranate; and Spanish-leaning grilled octopus over squid-ink couscous.
One Huntington Ave., Back Bay, Boston, 617-412-4600, sorellinaboston.com.
Apertivi at Sportello. / Photo provided
This minimalist, mid-price, Italian diner is a fun and fantastic place to experience the cooking of lauded chef Barbara Lynch. Tagliatelle Bolognese is rich pasta perfection, the sauce blurring the lines between meat and cheese and sweet tomato; and the gnocchi with lobster and mushroom ragu and peas is a must-order.
348 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com.
Cicchetti at SRV. / Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager
There are so many ways to love this instant South End classic. There’s the street-facing cicchetti bar, the standing-room space to order small bites (for a small price) such as orange-and-herb-marinated olives, pork and beef polpette, and our favorite, baccala mantecato (salt cod spread on jet-black bread with herbs and garlic). Then there are chef Michael Lombardi’s bold pasta dishes, made with grains milled in-house; and pastry guru Meghan Thompson’s outstanding dolci—best enjoyed in the twilight on the secluded back patio.
569 Columbus Ave., South End, Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com.
Fans of chef-owner (and ever-colorful Twitter presence) Jen Royle know that there’s nowhere like her raucous North End restaurant, which is famous for its seven-course, family-style feasts served between two communal tables at appointed seating times. Maybe you’re not of the mindset right now to share platters of oversized meatballs, short rib ravioli, seared octopus, and more with strangers—if the last couple years have you hungry for human contact, though, you’ll find no better place for it. You will leave Royle’s nightly dinner parties feeling full, and in more ways than one.
445 Hanover St., Boston, 857-250-4286,tableboston.com.
The “Old School” pizza at Tavolo, topped with green pepper, red onion, and pepperoni. / Photo courtesy of Tavolo
For more than 10 years, this “Dorchester Italian” spot from hometown chef Chris Douglass has been a neighborhood go-to for casual comfort food, cheffy side dishes, and pizza. Share one of the pear-, gorgonzola-, and prosciutto-topped pies, try the eggy chitarra carbonara, or indulge in the chili-flaked meatballs to discover why it remains a hit with so many regulars.
1918 Dorchester Ave., Ashmont, Dorchester, 617-822-1918, tavolodotave.com.
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