To those in Boston's North End, the iconic blue and white Mike's Pastry box can mean only one thing: cannoli. Ok, it could also mean cream puffs, fresh fig squares, or crispy taralli, but Mike's cannoli enjoys something of a legendary reputation on Hanover Street and for good reason. The bakery––which has been run by the Mercogliano family since 1946––makes 17 different varieties of the Italian pastry, filling the fresh baked shells with everything from classic ricotta cheese to chocolate mousse. Of course, it isn't just the variety that sends customers flocking to Mike's pastry case; everything from the rum cakes to the Neopolitan sfogliatella is made fresh from scratch each day using handpicked fruits, real cream and butter, and Italian recipes passed down through generations. The pastries, cookies, and other treats have become so in demand that Mike's has even opened an online shop, so fans can enjoy them even when they’re far away or literally chained to their desk.
Though Modern Pastry Shop has been helping people celebrate with traditional Italian treats for more than 70 years, the bakery's history extends much further back than that. The family of bakers can trace their recipes back 150 years, to the days when their Italian foremothers and forefathers tinkered with ingredients and baking methods until they had forged the perfect biscotti, cannoli, and pignoli cookies. Three generations later, old world techniques still take center stage at Modern Pastry Shop, though the menu has expanded to include classic American favorites like apple pie, Boston cream cake, and gingerbread men modeled after former Secretaries of State. Each day, customers can find the bakers filling pasta frolla pastry dough with sweetened ricotta to craft ricotta pies, icing soft anginetti cookies with lemon or anise frosting, and crafting numerous styles of torrones—a nougat-like candy made with roasted almonds. The freshly baked goods are also complimented by an assortment of specialty items imported from Italy, including olive oil, Cedrinca hard candies, and bite-sized Balocco wafers filled with vanilla, chocolate, or hazlenut cream.
This North End restaurant is unfussy and unpresuming, but it’s got legions of fans who love its family vibe, reasonable prices and generous portions. Located on Salem Street, where dozens of restaurants vie for patrons, Al Dente Restaurant is a simple, usually bustling eatery that stands out for its made-to-order pasta – that’s right, every dish of pasta is cooked when you ask for it. Mussels marinara is a popular starter and the Al Dente house special, composed of sautéed scaloppini of veal, chicken and shrimp with broccoli, mushrooms, peppers and artichoke hearts should be enough for dinner and leftovers the next day. And in an area where parking is a nightmare, the restaurant offers validated parking in a lot five minutes away, which may just be worth the often lengthy wait by itself.
Three generations of bakers have kept the ovens at Bova’s Bakery piping hot and running through the night. Since 1932, this Italian bakery has been pumping out freshly made baked goods, both sweet and savory, 24 hours a day, every day. That means that whatever time you stroll through the doors, you’ll find tray upon tray stocked with fresh cannoli—whose crisp outer shells give way to a homemade ricotta filling—creamy tiramisu squares, turnovers, Whoopie pies, and éclairs. And that’s just dessert. Savory appetites get their fill with thick Sicilian pizzas, plump calzones, and “Spuckies”—sub sandwiches on fresh spucadella rolls with a cornucopia of fresh meats, veggies, and condiments wedged inside the pillowy bread. Customers are always welcome to call ahead to find out which loaves, rolls, and baguettes have just emerged fresh from the oven, all of which beg for a smear of butter or a layer of jam.
Tucked away down a side street, passersby might blink and miss Parziale’s Bakery, but those lucky enough to find this tiny shop swing through for crusty breads, pizza by the slice and sweet treats – just as countless others have done in the bakery’s more than 100 years of service. The glass storefront gives a peek inside the old-school digs, which churn out carbs for the masses daily, including every form of chewy, crusty, braided, knotted, French, ciabatta and Tuscan breads, plus simple slices that satisfy for a quick lunch. For dessert, don’t miss their selection of Italian cookies that range from biscotti, cannoli shells and pizelles to American favorites like oversized M&M cookies and apple turnovers, all made inside this aging but always delightful North End space.
Tucked away on Salem Street is Pauli’s, a popular breakfast haven-turned-–restaurant, where hungry locals belly up to the counter. In the early morning glare, they come for hearty steak and egg breakfasts, hashes and cheesy three-egg omelets. Come lunchtime, diners look to the restaurant’s chalkboard-black walls, which are highlighted with the day’s specials. Rotating dishes may include a gnocchi marinara, tortellini alfredo, steak tips, fish ‘n’ chips, veggie burgers and every kind of sandwich imaginable, including some more adventurous finds like the Mezza Luna with grilled chicken and eggplant parmesan, or the Killer Bee, stuffed with a crispy chicken cutlet, bacon, provolone and honey mustard.