Old School Meets New School in the North End of Boston

by cindy

If you were born in the mid 1960s or earlier in the United States, chances are you remember the black and white television commercials for Prince Spaghetti with a little boy running through the cobblestone streets of The North End on his way to supper as his mother called out the tenement window, “Anthony, Anthony!” The commercial ends with ‘Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day. Today with nearly 100 restaurants in the North End of Boston (mostly Italian) every day is spaghetti day.

Walking Boston’s Freedom Trail through the section of the North End is one of my favorite parts of the famous tourist activity – the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house being the most well known. Following the painted red brick line beginning at one end of Hanover Street, you start to notice a hint of something aromatic and once you walk a bit further past the post office it intensifies. Garlic simmering on the stove, in a brick oven or baking in a dish…there’s no mistaking it – old school.

While your nose is doing overtime, your eyes are feasting on architecture unlike the rest of the city. Old school tenement remnants endure, but so do gorgeous brownstone facades with copper bump-outs. Apartments with the tiniest of balconies overlook the streets below. Privacy has always been in short supply in the North End, but folks like it that way. Crime is at a minimum and neighbors still look after one another. It’s a neighborhood watch program without the title – old school.

Although the area is becoming gentrified, it will never be known as anything but “Little Italy” in and around Boston. What I like best about visiting my condo in the North End is stepping back in time and living like I did when I resided in Europe. I shop daily for my groceries, stopping first at the hole-in-wall shop aptly named The Vegetable Guy (18 Parmenter St) to grab a banana, an apple, and maybe some veggies for an evening meal. I pay cash and sometimes when I forget, the grocer trusts me to bring the money back another day – old school.

Normally I make my own coffee at home, but not when I am in town. Few places are open early for a cup of Joe, but as scarce as they are; many are filled with small groups of local Italian men speaking their native language – old school.

Caffé Vittoria (290-296 Hanover) has been open since 1929. In my opinion, they have the best morning cappuccino in Boston. The décor is something out of a coffee lover’s dream – vintage barista machines fill the room and add to the purely Italian ambiance. They only accept cash – old school.

Some of the side streets still have some old-fashion residents that keep the character intact. In the warmer months, you can find some women in housecoats putting their washing out to dry and peeking below to make sure the neighborhood kids are behaving. I’ve seen a couple of guys who hang out in nothing but shorts and tank top t-shirts acting as lookouts of sorts. It’s funny and intriguing at the same time – old school.

I almost never leave the neighborhood because everything I need to exist is literally a few blocks away – True Value Hardware (88 Salem St), a few specialty grocery stores like Going Bananas (64 Salem St), and Monica’s Mercato (130 Salem St), several dry cleaners, a post office, an emergency center, a few workout places, decent liquor and wine shops like Wild Duck (96 Salem St) and The Wine Bottega (341 Hanover St), a gaggle of pastry shops like the famous Mike’s (300 Hanover St) and Modern (257 Hanover St), but also the best tasting Maria’s (46 Cross St) and the dozens and dozens of awesome restaurants. What isn’t sold at any of those is found at the Connah Store (270 Hanover St), a play on the Boston accent for Corner Store.

So what’s new school you ask? Trendy clothes and accessory shops like Shake the Tree (67 Salem St) and LIT Boutique (236 Hanover St) a Boston-made only chocolate shop Cocoanuts (28 Parmenter St), and sushi places like my favorite North End Sushi (99 Salem St). Boston’s only cigar lounge also serves Hookah (who knew?) at Stanza dei Sigari (292 Hanover St).


My favorite restaurants and bars include:

Quattro (264 Hanover St) – best authentic pizza in Boston where the entire staff is hardworking and friendly and the pizza maker is from Naples, Italy.

Aria Trattoria (253 Hanover)– best romantic restaurant with a warm ambiance. The bartender Gill is hilarious and serves a mean martini.

Ristorante Fiori (250 Hanover St) – best outdoor rooftop bar in the warm weather.

Trattoria di Monica (67 Prince St) – best fresh pasta dishes with modern twists.

Florentine Cafe (333 Hanover St) – best bar to hang out and people watch winter or summer.

Buon Appetito!

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