Paul Revere lived in Boston’s North End, which is now considered the city’s “Little Italy.” Walking the same streets as Revere, one sees an abundance of Italian restaurants, cafés, bakeries and shops. The place gives off an Old World vibe—the streets are narrow, the young people are seductively dressed, the old folks observe from benches and an occasional Vespa buzzes by. Parking is a nightmare.
The Italians are the fourth group to dominate the neighborhood. First, were the original colonists from England, who developed the small peninsula into a world trading hub. After the Revolutionary War, the wealthiest moved up to Beacon Hill, leaving behind an ever-growing port complete with sailors, prostitution and crime.
A huge wave of Irish immigrants filled the North End in the 1800s, escaping repression and the Potato Famine. Between 1846 and 1855, 37,000 Irish fled their home country for a new start in Boston. Eventually, they, too, left the North End, moving on to South Boston (“Southie”), where they still dominate culturally, and beyond.
Following the Irish were Eastern European Jews who played a significant role in upgrading many of the buildings in the neighborhood. They too, moved up the social ladder and on to other neighborhoods, such as Brookline.
As the Jews moved on, it was the Italians who filled the North End. In 1930, 44,000 were packed into the neighborhood. Interestingly, the immigrants from Genoa, Abruzzo, Sicily, Naples and other regions of Italy, created their own neighborhoods within the neighborhood.To this day, Italian-American culture dominates, holding on against a steady push of young professionals seeking apartments and condominiums.
Off the main drag, but no less a landmark in the North End, is Pizzeria Regina, a small, crowded, noisy restaurant which has attracted locals and and out-of-towners since 1926. The popular restaurant has since grown to a chain of stores throughout the suburbs. Pizza, one of the most popular foods in America, came with immigrants from the area of Naples. It actually exploded in popularity first in the U.S., before it was widely popularized all over Italy, where it was considered a regional dish.
At Pizzeria Regina, waiting for tables is common and space is at a premium. That’s why benches and overhead heaters are provided outside the front door. Once seated, or rather, squeezed into a tiny booth, there is an assault to the ears (blaring jukebox, barking waitresses and whooping patrons) as well as to the eyes (piles of pizza boxes, walls of old faded photographs). But alas, the experience is worth it. We come back every year.