Boston’s North End is referred to by visitors as “Little Italy,” although never called that by Bostonians. It has an Old World charm and feel that makes it a pleasure to roam the streets. And it all centers around the food — especially Italian pastries. Locals are always arguing where to get the best pastry. Usually, it comes down to the two best-known competitors: Mike’s and Modern. Each shop has its own supporters insisting that’s it’s really no contest at all. But there are other contenders as well vying for the title of “King of North End Pastry.”
Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover Street) claims it sits 50 people comfortably, but that never seems to happen. It feels like there’s always a line winding through the seating area, with each patron anxious to get their share of the prize. For some folks, that just adds to Mike’s unique charm! Inside, it’s hard to tell where the line ends or begins, as it always feels like a mad crush of people. Mike’s, by far, has the biggest variety of pastries, but the two items talked about the most are the chocolate chip Florentine Cannoli and the Lobster Tail, which is a pastry-shaped version containing white crème. Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
By comparison, Modern Pastry Shop (257 Hanover Street) seems almost orderly, even with its line snaking outside. It’s considerably smaller than Mike’s and doesn’t have the quite the selection, but it sure has its loyal followers who insist the quality is much better. It’s best known for its cannolis, which are filled to order rather than made ahead, allowing the crust to stay crisp, dry, and quite flaky. Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. Fridays and until midnight on Saturdays).
Lyndell’s Bakery (227 Hanover Street) is one of the newer competitors in the North End, although it’s been open since 1887 at its other location at 720 Broadway in Somerville. Birger Lindahl, a Swedish immigrant who arrived in America in 1882, changed the spelling of his name to Lyndell and converted his fresh bread home delivery route to a bakery shop. It has numerous varieties of the classic “Half Moon,” which in some areas are called “Black and Whites.” Here, the frosting is not just frosting; it makes up more than half the overall thickness. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Cafe Vittoria (296 Hanover Street), established in 1929, was the first Italian cafe in Boston and it maintains its “old world” feel. This is the place you want to go if you want a relaxing cappuccino or espresso with your pastry. Of course, locals could argue all day whether the pastries here are as good as they are at the other bakeries or if it’s the ambiance that makes it just seem that way. Open 7 a.m. to midnight (from 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). Note: Only cash is accepted.
All these shops are an easy walk from the North End’s newest hotel, the Fairmont Battery Wharf.
- Alan Maltzman of BostonCityWalks.com