Boston’s North End neighborhood has the distinction of being Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood. But more than that, it is the epicenter of all things Italian. The streets here are packed with restaurants, small local stores, and artisan food purveyors. While the complex maze of streets and alleys may seem confusing, and the profusion of shops more than a little overwhelming, there’s help for new foodies in town. Michele Topor’s (Boston Food Tours’) guided tour of the area offers an hours long “walk and talk” tour through the eyes, lips, and taste buds of a true local.
Topor, who has lived in the North End for decades, is on a first name basis with the shop owners and workers on this tour. She takes her guests through back doors and side entrances in a way that has market owners jumping out from behind their counters with sample trays ready and waiting.
As we tasted and asked questions on my tour in April of 2015, Michele held forth on the subtleties between various olive oils, cheeses, cuts of meat, wines, nuts, and peppered her tour with just enough history to give readers an understanding of why the local Italian immigrant population gravitated to the North End, and how the population (and by extension the shops) have changed over the years.
The North End is not just a market area that closes at the end of the day. This is a vibrant and active neighborhood with dozens of streets, over 100 restaurants, and thousands of full time residents. Boston’s North End also includes attractions like the Old North Church, and is adjacent to the Greenway, the New England Aquarium, and Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, making it, and Topor’s Boston Food Tour, ideal itinerary companions.
On this tour I was particularly charmed by the old world feel and quaint convenience of Polcari’s Market, and Monica’s Mercato & Salumeria – a local grocery that’s named (along with the restaurant across the street) by three brothers/owners in honor of their mother. The Bricco sandwich shop, market, and bakery is a kind of secret find hole-in-the-wall in the alley alongside the Bricco restaurant on Hanover Street. It was so good that I went back the next day for lunch on my own and bought a few food souvenirs as well. Finally, the Easter treats at Maria’s pastry shop were a little (and sometimes not so little) slice of heaven.
Overall, Michele Topor’s North End Food Tour offers participants a nicely balanced look at one of Boston’s classic ethnic enclaves. The mix of history, tasty edibles, practical local knowledge, and Michele’s passion for her subject make this tour informative, infectious, and engaging.
(Each participant on my North End Market Tour was given a resources list and recipes. Note that tour itineraries are subject to change based on season and vendor availability, etc. This tour runs about three hours, and is priced around $55. )
text and images by Glenn D. Kaufmann
Follow this link to read about nearby food truck’s on Boston’s Greenway.
(Boston Food Tours also offers a Gluten free version of the North End Market Tour, and a Chinatown Food Tour.)
(To guarantee your spot on a tour, always best to book your Boston food Tour as far in advance as you can.)
Boston Food Tours
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Personal interviews and experience
2. WCVB (TV)
3. North End