The Best Italian Restaurants In Boston
photo credit: Reagan Byrne
Thanks to most rom-coms and Billy Joel songs, there’s a lot of pressure on Italian restaurants to be quaint and romantic places, where candlelight flickers on the faces of a couple who just broke up, made up, and got engaged on the same night. We can’t promise that you’ll find that at the 15 spots on this guide, but what we can guarantee is lots of old-school red sauce joints and hybrid wine bar restaurants heavy on small plates and crudo.
Come to these places with the confidence that, even if your night doesn’t end under the moonlight as a Sinatra song plays, you'll walk away with some excellent pasta. Still looking for more carbs? Let us introduce you to the best pizza places in Boston.
Coppa is pretty much the perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant, filled with light from a wall of windows and plenty of excellent pasta. Go for the cavatelli with chicken sausage, soppressata pizza, and the Italian grinder loaded with cured meats and pickled cherry peppers that could give a full-time sandwich shop a run for its money. We love posting up in the colder months at the bar to eat enough charcuterie to forget the wind chill has dipped below freezing levels.
SRV is a small plates wine bar that sticks to just that—don’t come here looking for pizza or a huge plate of veal parm. The service is warm, and the menu focuses on stuff like smoked trout toast, rabbit agnolotti, and a lobster risotto that isn’t too rich. It’s all served in an airy space that never feels too crowded, and their twinkly light-covered back patio is one of the best outdoor spots in town.
This Italian restaurant on the edge of Porter Square is consistently booked a couple weeks out, and you’re going to have to deal with that if you want to eat there. Let’s be clear: you want to eat at Giulia. Why? Well, they have a “pasta table” right by the kitchen that you can book for a big group and eat a bunch of family-style dishes, along with a small selection of tables and a dark bar in a back room that’s always packed. But even if your dream isn’t to eat plates of housemade pasta with several other humans, the menu updates regularly, with delicious stuff like soppressata flatbread and swordfish over black Sardinian rice.
You probably know at least a whole basketball team of people whose favorite restaurant is the Roxbury location of Mida. Sure, it’s good, but we’re going to tell you to head to their newest location on the East Boston waterfront. They have stunning views of the city to go along with a crispy clam pizza that has the perfect amount of char and chew. Tack on some North Shore fritto misto (with calamari, clam strips, and cherry peppers), because, you know, you’re on the water, and some pastas like the housemade bucatini all’amatriciana and gnocchi cacio e pepe. They also do a great Negroni that’s made with Alessio di Torino Rosso, an Italian Vermouth, which makes things extra herbaceous.
Delfino in Roslindale Square is a spot we aren’t going to gatekeep. Because first of all, this is our job, and second, because everybody should have a meal here at some point. This tiny restaurant makes big plates of things like open-faced lobster ravioli, veal saltimbocca that oozes cheese from every nook and cranny, and a plate of linguine frutti di mare that’s bursting with mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, and calamari. The portions are enormous, so you’ll have a nice plate for lunch the next day. It’s crowded just about every night, but they turn over tables efficiently, so you can usually walk in.
The only thing we hate more than a flavorless bruschetta is when our favorite restaurant is closed on a Monday. You’ll never have to worry about either of those things at Bar Mezzana: they’re open every day and do a toasty rosemary and onion focaccia that comes, almost bruschetta style, with a choice of several spreads, like eggplant with goat cheese and honey. It’s the perfect starter for a meal that should also include the salmon crudo with Thai basil pesto and a small plate of orecchiette with sausage and fennel.
Bar Enza is one of the best restaurants to open in Cambridge in recent memory. That’s because of its versatility. You can come here, sit at the bar, drink a Sicilian mule with Averna, and down a plate of gnocchi with lobster and spaghetti with spicy squid. But it works just as well if you bring a group, huddle in one of their booths, and split plates like sirloin carpaccio and smoked ricotta ravioli. The dining room’s energy here is super fun and sexy, with intimate lighting at each table and lots of cozy pink velvet to sink into.
Tony & Elaine’s could have felt cheesy pretty easily. It’s a newer restaurant in the North End that was designed to look and feel like an old-school spot—think white-checked tablecloths and red-sauce classics like meatballs and chicken parm. These types of places usually feel like they were designed by somebody who watched one season of The Sopranos and decided to open a restaurant, but Tony & Elaine’s is just a great casual restaurant that’s perfect for pregaming the Bruins at TD. The service is welcoming, the wine pours are heavy, and the rigatoni alla vodka is a top contender for the best in Boston.
Geppetto is cooking some of the most interesting Italian food in the greater Boston area. We’re talking about things like fried mozzarella made by frying delicate strands of pasta with the cheese—picture dozens of tiny, crunchy strands of pasta loosely wrapped around a fairly large hunk of mozzarella, then deep fried, and topped with (yes) more cheese. You’ll also find a menu packed with housemade mafaldine with braised lamb and plates of cappelletti with pumpkin. It’s a solid date night or dinner with the parents move where you can snag a big comfy booth or a window seat that overlooks Cambridge Crossing.
The only option at Table in the North End is the incredible, no-substitutions $125 pre-fixe meal. And while it might sound like a nightmare to your picky friend who only eats buttered noodles, you’re never going to have a bad meal here. The menu changes regularly, but almost always starts with whole bulbs of roasted garlic and bread, some kind of stracciatella and vegetable dish, a pasta course, grilled fish and/or meat, and meatballs for the table. Some past plates we’ve loved have been grilled octopus with cannelloni beans and chicken milanese smothered in arugula, red onion, sunflower seeds, and shaved parmesan. The restaurant is just one cozy room with two communal tables, and it’s the perfect place to come hungry with at least three friends and have an evening.
Tavolo has been a reliable favorite in Dorchester for a decade. The bar is always full of chatty regulars who will tell you what to order whether you ask or not (spoiler: you should listen to them). They’d probably advise you, like we would, to share one of the fig, ricotta, and gorgonzola-topped pies and some chili-flaked meatballs. Tavolo is also the rare Italian restaurant that hosts a drag aperitivo hour on Sundays from 3-5pm. Go, appreciate the perfect contouring, and order some carbonara or cacio e pepe.
Tonino in Jamaica Plain falls into the category of restaurants we’re calling ZBVs, or places with zero bad vibes. It’s a small restaurant where people from the neighborhood actually have dinner, and it’s impossible not to find happiness on the menu. Especially if you order the taleggio cappelletti and pizza bianca that you can customize with pairings like ricotta and hot honey or eggplant caponata. There are plenty of two-tops for dates, but try and snag the two counter seats in the back that look into the open kitchen for a peak ZBV evening.
Via Cannuccia makes the best pasta in Dorchester and should be a date-night go-to. Use it when you’re trying to have one of those “let’s get out of the house and put on real clothes” nights—post up at a table in the colorful room covered with vintage-looking artwork, take advantage of the under-$30 wine list, and order a ton of plates off the vegetarian-friendly menu. The dishes rotate often, but look for the homemade gnocchi with butter and sage, baked chicken pie with mushrooms, and crispy eggplant parmigiana with tomato coulis and pesto basil.
Bar Volpe is an exciting addition to the growing Southie restaurant scene, and definitely the best Italian you’ll find in the area. Your order should include appetizers like farro arancini, excellent seafood like PEI mussels in shrimp butter, and a plate of transcendent jet-black casarecce al nero that’s bright, spicy, and topped with lobster. There’s also a solid wine-by-the-glass list (get the lambrusco) and lineup of Negronis—if you’ve never had a mezcal Negroni, this is your moment. Dive head first into all of the above in a plush, wood-lined booth, or at the beautifully lit bar.
There are a lot of restaurants in the North End serving reliable Italian-American food with solid wine lists and a good staff. Trattoria Il Panino is the best of the bunch, thanks to dishes like fluffy gnocchi tossed in a tomato sauce speckled with fresh herbs, stuffed zucchini flowers, and a veggie antipasto plate with six different vegetables and crostini that you might as well call dinner. This is the spot to take your friend visiting from the Midwest who wants an “authentic North End experience,” or your family after a long day of sightseeing around town.