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Of all the Little Italys in the northeast, Boston's is probably the one least decimated by gentrification. That's not to say this nabe doesn't have its fair share of yuppie cafes and tourist traps, but they don't totally drown out the sweet sound of "uno cannoli, per favore."
You'll still find narrow cobblestone streets lined with hole-in-the-wall eateries, decades-old businesses which make up a part of an ethnic fabric and give the neighborhood a personality and attractions above tourism. Many of these places just happen to be amazing restaurants, and let's face it, you're really only going to come here for one overarching reason: the food. To ease the stress of deciding, we'll let you in on a few of our favorite stops:
Hey, Little Italys aren't just for the states.
The main draw of "La Boca" is the scenery, particularly the brightly-painted houses along Caminito, the main street that's packed with artists, tango dancers and all kinds of hawkers every evening. The strip elicits the same complaints as Manhattan's Little Italy—too noisy, full of chintzy souvenirs and too many tourists—but a little further into La Boca, there are some genuine Italian-Argentinean haunts to be found.
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Hundreds of tourists flood the tiny streets of Manhattan’s Little Italy every day, but we're not such big fans, mostly due to the overpriced lattes, mediocre meals, chintzy souvenirs and, well, hundreds of tourists.
But twelve miles to the North, New York has another, less heralded Little Italy, which is much more up our alley. What we like to think of as "The Real Little Italy," runs along Arthur Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx and it has largely avoided Manhattan-style gentrification, preserving an array of classic markets, butchers, bakeries and restaurants, almost all still family-owned and operated.
From turn-of-the-century cheese shops churning out mozzarella as soft as any you’ll find in Tuscany, to Italian grandfathers sipping grappa-spiked coffee in between contentious games of bocce, this is the Little Italy you've been looking for (unless you're just in search of an "I heart Italian girls" t-shirt – then head back down to Manhattan.
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Chicago's Little Italy doesn't get as much travel play as some other Lit-Its, mostly because its West Side location is a bit of a hike from most of the downtown tourist sites (and because you can get a decent deep-dish pizza in just about any neighborhood here).
But that can be a good thing, since it means Chi-town's Little Italy, while gentrifying, isn't quite as commercialized as places like NYC's Soho-fied Little Italy. Just don't looks for a Roman-style pizza bianca – this place is less concerned with being genuine Italian than reveling in its Italian-American-ness, with heaping portions or pasta, super-cheesy pizza, and garlic, garlic, garlic. A couple of our favorite stops:
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Over the past century, San Francisco's Little Italy neighborhood (also known as North Beach) has suffered an oddly similar fate to New York's area of the same name: It's been slowly but steadily eaten away by Chinatown and other surrounding neighborhoods.
In fact, many visitors trek straight from Chinatown to Fisherman's Wharf without even realizing they've gone through what's left of this historic nabe. But while there may not be the many dozens of old-school Italian eateries there once were, there are still some genuine, tasty Italian finds to be had.