Boston On a Budget: Kristina Atienza Takes On the North End

Written by Kris Atienza

Kristina Atienza
BU News Service

As much as I love spending weekends in the comfort of my apartment curled up in a fortress of blankets with the romantic companionship from Netflix, I can’t help but feel, like every so often, the urge to get out and explore the new city I’m calling home. With a massive craving for Italian food and $45 to my name, I bundled up and headed out to see what I could find this weekend.

Right off the bat, I lost $5 from my budget. My monthly local bus pass got me onto the 57 to Kenmore, but I still needed to hop on the C line all the way to North End. Usually when I travel in any city, I like to keep my headphones in and just observe the people as they go through their everyday commute, but this T ride was pleasant enough by randomly ending up on the same train as my classmates.

Going right up the stairs and finding myself in North End confused me for a bit because I honestly felt like I was in another part of my hometown: Philadelphia. The streets in North End are wide enough to be what I’d expect in part of the heart of Philly, where trolley and regular cars blur past with unnecessary honking and aggressive shouting.

I find restaurants pretty quickly, but with the closer proximity to TD Garden and a budget of a struggling grad student, a lot of these places were dismissed pretty swiftly. As irritating as it was to realize my options were limited due to price, it was just as exciting to try to figure out an adventure on a budget.

Following the flow of traffic made it seem like there wasn’t much to be seen, so instead I decided to follow my nose and the smell of pizza in the air led me to the front of Regina Pizza. The smell of the pizza was extremely appealing and the line in front of the corner shop made me curious. But this craving for adventure called for pasta that didn’t come from a frozen microwavable dinner, so keeping Regina Pizza as an option for another day, I kept walking down the streets, following my Google Maps suggestions to the actual heart of the North End.

The buildings were fascinating to see because the rows of brick homes with slightly rusted fire escapes reminded me of what people expected cities in the mid-1900s to look like. Honestly, it reminded me of the cityscape in A Bronx Tale more than anything and I loved it.

It seems like the city of Boston wanted to surprise me at literally every turn. Uncovering Cooper Street was like magic. In a few steps, I went from feeling like this adventure was a bust to feeling overwhelmed with so many possibilities of what to do next. Turning onto Salem street made me feel like someone took the icon in Google Maps and plopped me into a street in Italy.

As I walked along Salem Street, wondering how people could bypass this little piece of Italy. I was reminiscent of my Italy trip in late 2000s. Mom and pop type shops lined the significantly smaller streets, mopeds drove by, and heavy Italian accents filled the air.

There were even more restaurants that I walked by, like Vito’s Tavern. For a solo trip, I opted against it because Vito’s crosses me as a place ventured to with a wicked appetite and a bit of company. Speaking of impressive things on this street, there was even a Hat Shop called Salmagundi. It looked absolutely quaint and I want to go back to buy myself a hat or tie when I actually have money. The Oyster Bar made me wish I didn’t have a shellfish allergy, it looked like a great place to try.

Soon the grumbling in my stomach outweighed my fascination with a store that was part Barber Shop, part tattoo parlor. After glancing at a couple more restaurants, I found myself sitting at Antico Forno. The prices and portions were reasonable and the environment was appealing.

This restaurant was definitely worth going into. The service was  impressive, with the servers getting to me within minutes of sitting at the bar and my order was probably taken faster than I’ve ever experienced in a major city. A lot of the pasta offerings were right up my taste alley and I honestly had a hard time deciding which I wanted. Beer and Gnocchi pasta might not usually mix for what people would expect to eat at an Italian restaurant, but for a meal that cost me $30, plus had a good environment that even played football? It was definitely worth it.

Cannoli flavors displayed inside Mike's Pastry. Photo by Kristina Atienza/BU News Service

Cannoli flavors displayed inside Mike’s Pastry. Photo by Kristina Atienza/BU News Service

But is a food adventure truly enjoyed without dessert? After countless suggestions from friends, I found myself waiting in line at Mike’s Pastry. The most overwhelming thing about going to this place was deciding which dessert I wanted. Since everyone said I needed to try these cannolis, I got myself a Nutella Cannoli and an Oreo Cannoli to take home. Mike’s is definitely in my top five of best cannolis I’ve ever had. Before I can give it anything higher or lower, I guess I’ll just need to go back and try more of the flavors they offer.

The North End was an incredible place that I want to go back to try new tastes and explore even more. Walking along Salem street made me feel like I wasn’t even in Boston and it was just amazing to feel that way in a major city. This adventure left me a little bit of wiggle room with my budget and, unfortunately for me, that means that North End will probably not be as common a place to adventure when looking for a fuller meal. Looking for pizza and cannolis? This part of Boston is definitely the spot.

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