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The greatest of Boston’s North End, according to Frank Depasquale

The North End, a short peninsula extending into Boston Harbor, is one of the oldest and most renowned neighborhoods in the city. The region was first founded by English Puritans, who were followed by waves of other European immigrants, whose red-brick homes now line the winding, crowded streets. The city’s “Little Italy” (although no one calls it that!) was created in this 1-square-kilometer area by tens of thousands of Italian immigrants by the early 20th century.

The North End still has an ethnic vibe today. Italian eateries and delis fill the streets, and you may still overhear vibrant conversations in the language. Frank Depasquale, a local, remarked, “It’s the greatest inner-city Italian community in the United States.” It’s unique, as they say.

Depasquale made his home in the North End when his family came across from Italy about 67 years ago, just like many other immigrants before him. Il Panino was the name of the little store he created, where he sold sandwiches prepared with fresh bread, Parma prosciutto, and buffalo mozzarella. He currently owns and runs nine Italian eateries in the North End, and his shop, Bricco Salumeria, is still where you can get his famous “Panino” sandwich.


Depasquale advised visitors to come prepared to learn about the neighborhood. Say a few words back to someone who is speaking Italian when you see them. The way this neighborhood is built, they would love to give you directions to where you want to go. We give hugs. They receive two kisses from us. We point them in the right way and assist them as necessary.

Here are Depasquale’s top five suggestions for things visitors to the North End shouldn’t miss.

The eateries in Boston’s North End provide cuisine from every area of Italy. (Credit: Alamy/Kim Karpeles)
The eateries in Boston’s North End provide cuisine from every area of Italy. (Credit: Alamy/Kim Karpeles)

1. Enjoy some Italian food

One of the greatest ways to enjoy the rich Italian-American tradition of the North End, according to Depasquale, is to sample the restaurant scene, which is abundant in the neighborhood with approximately 100 eateries, delis, and cafés. From a $3.25 slice of Sicilian pizza at Galleria Umberto to the intricate tableside presentation of Roman caccio e pepe at Nico Ristorante, every area of Italy is represented. Some of Depasquale’s favorite eateries are Forcella, a charming spot on North Square; Carmelina’s, where amazing pasta dishes are prepared in an open kitchen; and Saraceno, which serves traditional Neapolitan cuisine.

In another location, Trattoria Il Panino, the original restaurant of Depasquale, serves superb dining with fresh shellfish and handmade pasta that is reminiscent of the cuisine of the Amalfi coast. Quattro is a more recent business that offers Neapolitan pizza in a relaxed atmosphere. Since there are so many options available to diners, Depasquale is keen to point out that “you can really make a mistake at any restaurant in the North End.”

He continued, “The competition is so fierce… we all steal from them other. “We all work together to make sure that a certain wine, olive oil, or bread runs out. We all fail if one person does, for this reason.

Some of the top Italian cafes in the North End can be found on Hanover Street (Photo Credit: Mara Vorhees)
Some of the top Italian cafes in the North End can be found on Hanover Street (Photo Credit: Mara Vorhees)

2. Examine the culture of cafes

According to Depasquale, one distinctive feature of dining in the North End is that “you don’t just leave the restaurant and go home. After that, you visit the cafes for a digestif, a dessert, or just a talk.

An key component of the North End experience are Italian cafes. Any of the cafés on Hanover Street are great places to take a break from touring for a mid-afternoon cappuccino, to cool off with a gelato, or to try some of the delectable Italian pastries. The most well-known are cannoli, although Depasquale also suggests rum babà and sfogliatelle, two flaky pastries with ricotta filling. His personal favorite is the delizia al limone, an Amalfi Coast specialty that is a sponge cake filled with lemon custard.

According to Depasquale, each cafe along this section of Hanover Street has its own unique attraction. Locals love to meet at Caffè Paradiso for amaro and conversation. The oldest Italian café in the city is across the street at Caffè Vittoria, which has been serving cappuccinos and cannoli for nearly a century (and has a collection of antique coffee equipment to prove it). The walls of the Caffè dello Sport, which is right next door, are covered with pictures of famous Italian athletes.

An iconic North End activity is attending an Italian Feast in the summer (Credit: Jorge Tutor/Alamy)
An iconic North End activity is attending an Italian Feast in the summer (Credit: Jorge Tutor/Alamy)

3. Take part in an Italian meal

Every summer, the Italian Feasts held in the neighborhood, each honoring a different Catholic saint, put the North End’s religious fervor and sense of community on full display. According to Depasquale, these feasts combine food, fun, and religion in a celebratory community custom that is the epitome of the North End.

TIPS FOR THE NORTH END • Reserve a table for dinner in advance whenever possible, but especially from May to October and on weekends.
• Avoid attempting to park at North End! • If you must drive, park in the Parcel 7 Garage (near Haymarket), which is $3 for three hours with a ticket validated by a North End restaurant. • Take the T (subway) to Haymarket and stroll over the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

The streets are lined with food vendors selling Italian sausage, fried calamari, and gelato, as well as carnival games and live entertainment. Lights and banners are strung across them. The Grand Procession, during which devotees parade a statue of the honored saint through the thronging streets while being accompanied by marching bands and festive floats, is the centerpiece of each festival.

In early September and nearly every weekend in August, there are multi-day street events. The largest Italian event in New England, St Anthony’s Feast, which takes place the last weekend in August, is the highlight. More than 100 food vendors selling arancini, calzones, and other Italian goodies have set up shop on the North End’s side streets. Italian marching bands perform in the streets as they extend a warm invitation to join the festivities. Every night, live musicians perform on stage for singalongs and stargazing dancing.

Depasquale, for his part, enjoys the San Gennaro Feast, which honors the patron saint of Naples. He acknowledges that it is one of the smaller feasts, but the fact that every food vendor is a local one makes it a great choice for tourists. Past events have included, among other Italian specialties, meatball sliders from Table, fresh caprese salad from Riccardo’s, fried zucchini flowers from Assaggio, and sweets from Modern Pastry.

Wide-ranging views of Boston Harbor can be found at Langone Park (Credit: Hemis/Alamy)
Wide-ranging views of Boston Harbor can be found at Langone Park (Credit: Hemis/Alamy)

4. Unwind in Langone Park

Langone Park, a welcoming green area with wide views of the Zakim Bridge on one end and Boston Harbor on the other, is situated near the northernmost point of the North End. Depasquale calls it “one of the best things to happen to the North End.” Residents of the neighborhood gather here for recreation, socializing, and exercise. Families assemble around the athletic fields to watch kids’ baseball and soccer games. The elderly people chat in Italian while playing bocce. Depasquale added, “And on a hot summer day, you’ll see half the North End population in the pool.”

The lively park atmosphere of today belies the shady past of this location. It once housed storage tanks for molasses, which was brought in from the Caribbean to be utilized in the manufacture of weapons and rum. One of these enormous tanks burst in January 1919, spewing 2.3 million gallons of gooey molasses onto the congested North End streets. Everything in its path, including the fire station and the elevated railroad tracks, was obliterated by the enormous tsunami of goo. In this bizarre and tragic episode, there were twenty-one fatalities and hundreds of injuries. A modest plaque in Langone Park, close to where the tank originally stood, is the only concrete reminder of the alleged Great Molasses Flood.

The Paul Revere Mall and the North End are both traversed by the Freedom Trail (Image credit: Ian Dagnall/Alamy).
The Paul Revere Mall and the North End are both traversed by the Freedom Trail (Image credit: Ian Dagnall/Alamy).

5. Travel along the Freedom Trail

The North End has been a thriving residential neighborhood since 1630, long before Italian immigrants started coming to these shores. Over the past four centuries, it has witnessed waves of Puritan settlers as well as waves of African Americans, Irish, and people from Eastern Europe. Following the 2.5-mile-long Freedom Trail, which links 17 historic sites from Downtown Boston to the North End, is a terrific way to achieve so. As Depasquale said, “This is where people come to study the history of the United States.”

The North End contains three Freedom Trail locations that are deeply connected to American independence. The renowned American patriot lived in the Paul Revere House. The sexton of the nearby Old North Church strung two lamps to indicate the approach of British soldiers on the fateful night in 1775 when Revere traveled to Lexington to alert his fellow Patriots that British soldiers were coming to arrest them. Additionally, the neighboring Copp’s Hill Burying Ground has graves of patriot sympathizers, some of whose headstones are said to have served as targets for British soldiers. Follow the red-brick path as it weaves through the North End streets and over the shaded Paul Revere Mall for tourists and history buffs.


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