3 experiences in Boston’s North End you don’t want to miss!

Thanks for joining me on our Boston Road Trip!! I’ll include links to all my Boston posts at the end of this post.

Boston’s North End is home to Paul Revere’s House {the oldest wooden house in Boston, I believe}, Old North Church and part of the Freedom Trail.  You don’t need me to tell you about those- they’re featured on every Boston Travel Blog I’ve seen and plastered across all the Boston Ticket Sites as well.  I’m here to share the goodies you may miss without an inside scoop.  So go ahead & schedule those things.  But read here for the rest of the story!

After walking there, you’ll be hungry.  You’ll be tired of organized tours.  You’ll want to experience real life in Boston.  That’s what I’m going to tell you about.  Three experiences in the North End you don’t want to miss.

I’ll start with my very favorite discovery in all of Boston:

Caffe Vittoria.  Everything about this place screamed BOSTON & ITALIAN to me.  Tables were close together but no one could eavesdrop because everyone in the restaurant seemed to speak a different language.  Little Italian grandmas & grandpas squeezed around a table and loudly bantered, guys visiting from Europe kicked back at another table and this Southern Girl just soaked it all in.

Hubby played it safe with a cappucino.

The front of the cafe is open to the street.  Some locals ordered to-go but most lingered at marble-topped cafe tables and nursed perfectly steamed espressos like that was the only thing that matters in the world.  Waitresses fit every stereotype as they hurried from table to counter and abrubptly took orders.  Our favorite, Jen, quickly softened and paused to share local insights each time she passed our table.  Before we left, we swapped twitter handles and she helped us a few more times during our stay.  What a sweetie!

Caffe Affogato is what I'll drink every morning in heaven. Pretty sure.

My coffee was crazy good.  Jen suggested I try something I could never get in Florida.  So I did.  The Caffe Affogato is literally ice cream “drowned in coffee”.  You may need to read that again.  I said ICE CREAM floating in espresso.  And as if that weren’t decadent enough, she brought a shot of Kahlua to blow my ever-lovin tastebuds away.  It worked.  Crazy good.

Caffe Vittoria, y’all.  Go there. {290 Hanover Street, Boston}

Another experience we were told we MUST NOT MISS was an Italian Street Festival.  We happened to be there the weekend a major one took place… what luck!  Then I found out they have street festivals pretty much every weekend in the summer.  Haha- so your chances of experiencing the crazy just like we did are pretty good.

The North End's street festivals are famously packed.

The Festival of Santa Lucia was packed.  They all are.

It was fine.  I mean, walking down the street ordering a taste of rice balls here, freshly baked biscotti there, comparing cannoli… it was a fun experience.  It felt a little less authentic when we came to tents sponsored by major brands.  Bing had a tent set up comparing Bing vs Google and another vendor gave out Triscuits.  Sweet Leaf Tea’s booth challenged Bostonians to guess which sample was freshly brewed tea vs their “ultra fresh” bottled.  {EASY for this Southern Girl!}  I guess those kind of make it more authentic.  This is real life, not a perfectly choreographed reenactment.

It was fun.  All the bajillion people? Eh.  I could take it or leave it.  I’m an extrovert but I do have my limits.  I don’t really enjoy fried food so all the fair type booths weren’t tempting.  All in all, I’m glad we walked through and experienced a Boston Street Festival.  I was equally glad when we flagged down a pedicab to head back to the hotel.

Rice Balls were new to me- they're better than they sound!

There is one other MUST DO while in the North End.  Compare cannoli and choose a favorite.  There are mom & pop shops all around but the two most famous are Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry.

Mike’s Pastry is assumed to be the best in Boston.  It was easily the most common recommendation people gave me {that and the Duck Tour}.  Well, I’ve gotta say, after tasting pastries at several spots around town… not all cannoli are created equally.

Lines at Mike's are almost always out the door.

protip: Hit Mike’s during off hours to avoid long lines. We did well mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Modern Pastry is just down the block from Mike's.

Before I share my favorite, I have to tell you I am no cannoli expert.  I never even had one until I married my hubby.  We don’t really do cannoli in the South.  Peach Cobbler I can judge.  Apple Pie? Yeah, I can whip one up from scratch.  But I didn’t even know what a cannoli was- I thought it was like ravioli or manicotti.

So, in my very non-expert opinion, I liked Modern Pastry’s crisp shell better and creamy ricotta filling better.  BUT when hubby introduced me to Mike’s chocolate mousse filled cannoli… the competition was over.  That sucker is gooo-oood!

Buy extras and bring them home when you visit Boston. I'll take a chocolate mousse from Mike's, please. Hubby wants a traditional ricotta from Modern. Is that too much to ask?

When in doubt… buy both!  Don’t bother with the chocolate dipped shells, though.  And never order one from Publix when you get back home.  I love Publix, but they shouldn’t even try to sell cannoli. #notworththecalories

 In Summary 

I never wanted to go to Italy before my time in the North End.  This Southern Girl didn’t know what she was missing.  Mmmm mmm.

Go to Caffe Vittoria.  Try cannoli all around town and pick a favorite.  Order Rice Balls (more on those in this post… <-coming soon) or pasta dyed with squid ink or something else you’ve never even heard of.  Don’t count calories.  Bring home a cannoli for someone who’s never had one.  Share a little sunshine.  That’s how you enjoy Boston’s North End.

For more Boston Blog reading…

  1. Start with a light hearted meeting with Lobstah Lou.
  2. Then read Boston in the Fall: Day 1
  3. North End Italian Restaurants
  4. Boston Red Sox baseball game!!!

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