Unforgettable Dining in Boston’s Famous Italian Neighborhood
As you navigate the narrow waterfront streets of Boston’s “Little Italy,” you could easily overlook il Molo. But you won’t want to miss it, especially if you love fresh seafood. Once you experience this romantic North End Seafood Restaurant, it may just become one of your favorite places to eat in Boston.
I had the recent pleasure of being hosted at Il Molo on my birthday. Read on to hear about our dining experience. You’ll also learn a bit about the North End of Boston and an Italian Christmas Dinner tradition served Christmas Eve known as the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”
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Where is il Molo?
You’ll find il Molo on Commercial Street in Boston, Massachusetts. That’s in “The North End” right across from Sargents Wharf and the waterfront.
In fact, il Molo in Italian means, “the pier.”
Descend the few steps from street level and you’ll enter what feels more like an upscale speakeasy.
Where to Park in the North End
This small, charming section of Boston is densely populated and parking can be tricky.
In general, parking in Boston is expensive. You can expect to pay upwards of $20 at lots to start, and you may or may not find on-street parking in the city.
Street parking is rare to find in the North End and the city reserves most spaces for residents.
You can avoid the problem altogether by taking public transportation or parking at a nearby garage or area where on-street parking is more available. Fortunately, Boston is a great walking City.
We parked at Sargents Wharf Parking, which–on a Wednesday night in November at 6:30 pm–had plenty of space and seemed to be the closest to il Molo. (It cost us $20, total.)
Il Molo’s Casual Luxury Vibe for Couples and Groups
This stylish dining space with a spacious bar has a friendly vibe countered by the utmost attention to hospitality. To me, it’s the definition of a “casual luxury” experience.
While Jim and I looked forward to a special “date night,” I could see il Molo would lend itself to larger parties, with a semi-private room just beyond the bar and row of tables flanking the side room.
I could easily envision an intimate group gathering in either area.
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We found il Molo to be the perfect venue to steal away for a romantic getaway to the North End. It feels a little like a speakeasy tucked below street level. It’s bright, with stylish cream upholstery and plenty of ambient light.
Our hostess, Rachel, led us to an intimate, candlelit table with swanky wing chairs. We were lucky to score what might be one of the best seats in the house. Alongside a glass-enclosed fire, the dancing flames further enhanced a relaxing mood. (You can see for yourself in the video.)
I thought, how does it get better than this? (Spoiler alert: it does!)
But first, I want to share a little background on the North End. My own maternal family immigrated from Italy so it’s personally meaningful to me. The North End, in a way, is home for me.
Interesting Facts About The North End in Boston
The North End is the “Little Italy” section of the city and the oldest residential neighborhood in Boston. Settled in 1630, it’s a popular tourist destination known for its Italian American population, Italian restaurants, and many tourist attractions.
It’s changed a lot, especially in the last two decades since the dismantling of the Central Artery (“The Big Dig”) made it more accessible. Now, you’ll also find luxury condos and fewer original families here. But it keeps its charm.
Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue run parallel to the harbor, while Hanover Street bisects the neighborhood.
The North end is small but densely populated at just over one-third of a square mile (0.36mi2/0.93 km2). Believe it or not, it’s home to over 100 establishments and attractions.
Interesting fact: Do you remember the 1969 commercial where a mother calls “Anthony! Anthony!” home to a spaghetti dinner from the window? Three Italian immigrants founded the Prince Macaroni Company in the North End. 2019 marks this pop-culture commercial’s 50th anniversary.
If you haven’t seen it or would like to take a walk down memory lane, here it is:
Anthony! Anthony! Prince Spaghetti Commerical
Where is the Best Cannoli in Boston?
Where to find the best cannoli in Boston is a point of controversy for locals.
Long lines extending from each give credit to both opinions.
You’ll have no trouble finding authentic, sweet ricotta-filled cannoli in Boston…but I’ll leave you to decide which is the best cannoli when you visit.
Besides Italian pastry, there are so many authentic, delicious Italian restaurants to chose from.
That’s where North End seafood restaurant il Molo comes in.
Il Molo’s Owner and the Executive Chef: A Winning Combination
Il Molo is the brainchild of renown restaurateur Donato Frattaroli who brings several North End restaurant success stories to the table.
The culinary magic is the handwork of Boston native and executive chef, Pino Maffeo, a veteran chef who also has a long list of kitchen accolades.
According to il Molo’s website, Chef Pino uses the freshest, locally-sourced Seafood to create a unique fusion of “dishes inspired by the Mediterranean, New England, and the globe.”
According to me, the combination is out of this world.
North End Seafood Restaurant | Italian Fare
Our convivial server, Andrea, welcomed us to our table with a bottle of still water and we enjoyed some cool, fresh water while we explored the menu.
Many of the restaurants in Boston’s North End lean toward traditional and modern Italian fare. Il Molo’s specialty is seafood, as reflected in their double-sided menu brimming with exotic and classic seafood choices.
In addition, Andrea described drool-worthy specials of the evening.
As we poured over the menu, our dilemma was a good one…what to order?
It was hard to choose when faced with delicious seafood offerings including:
- Comforting classics like New England Clam Chowder
- Interesting spins on old favorites, like the Seafood Stew with Cous Cous,
- Incredible presentations like the Hot Tower and Cold Tower, stacked high with lobster, shrimp, clams, and other seafood (Oh, yum!)
- Raw bar options, including Late-Night Oysters for $1 at the bar (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10 – 11 pm)
Not that it worried us we would make a wrong choice; anything prepared by Chef Pino is delicious.
Beer, Wine, and il Molo’s Specialty Cocktails
Besides a healthy list of wines by the bottle or glass and beer from near and afar, the Specialty drinks were most enticing.
It arrived in a wine glass with just the right amount of ice and garnished with lemon.
And it tasted as good as it looks. I enjoyed sipping the light but sweet flavor, so refreshing and smooth. You’ll want another.
Jim ordered an il Molo Mai Tai, a creative twist on the classic drink. It featured Rum, Lemon, and Almond served in an old-fashioned glass. The sip I had was an exceptional alternative to the classic taste.
Great Starters & Appetizers at il Molo
Next, Andrea brought us a generous helping of fresh-baked Bread with Truffle Oil Butter.
Truffle Oil is one of those flavors you either adore or despise. There is no middle ground.
If you don’t know what they are, truffles are a kind of fungus that grows underground in Tuscany. They are curious lumps that cannot be farmed but are instead rooted out by trained dogs (and boar!) at the base of trees. The extracted oil is a delicacy, and very expensive.
The first time I tasted Truffle Oil was during my Trip to Tuscany. On the first try, I didn’t care for it’s earthy, pungent flavor at all. Now I love it.
I enjoyed the hearty serving of truffle butter at il Molo; it was a perfect pairing to the warm crusty bread.
Yummy Appetizers at il Molo
Jim and I shared three amazing appetizers at il Molo that were light, indulgent, and exotic:
- Burrata Salad
- Fried Rangoons
- Spanish Octopus
They arrived in good time together, each beautifully plated. Details follow.
The Burrata Salad was a perfect light starter.
Three thick slices of ripe-red tomatoes topped by the creamiest Burrata Cheese, fresh basil leaves were presented with just the right amount of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
If you’ve never tried Burrata, let me introduce you to my new favorite cheese.
Burrata looks a lot like fresh buffalo mozzarella–which is not all that far off. It’s made from buffalo milk and is soft, mild, and white.
But Burrata has a soft exterior with a creamier, buttery center when compared to its springy counterpart. This fine cheese oozes with deliciousness.
Il Molo’s Burrata Salad bursts with color and flavor. Besides the complimentary tastes of these fresh ingredients, the vibrant red-white-and-green reminds of the Italian flag.
Tip: If you want to add another layer of flavor, you might choose to top the Burrata Salad with lobster meat.
It might surprise you to find Fried Rangoons in an Italian seafood restaurant. They’re more commonly found at Asian restaurants.
Il Molo takes this dish to new levels. The fried wonton dumplings, sometimes called “Crab Rangoons,” were stuffed with the traditional crab meat, cream cheese, and chives filling, with the added indulgence of Lobster added to the mix.
Complimented by a house-made spicy dipping sauce with a horseradish kick, we made short work of them.
How is the Spanish Octopus?
Our third appetizer was the Spanish Octopus served with broccoli rabe, white beans, and chorizo. It came highly recommended by our server, Andrea.
Now, if you are squeamish at the sight of octopus tentacles, this dish may not be for you. But I for one, generally love exotic and new flavors.
This was no exception. Seafood lover and adventurist that I am, I devoured every bit of this Mediterranean delicacy at this north end seafood restaurant.
Il Molo prepared this generous serving of octopus with expertise. The flavor was fresh and char-grilled. The rabe, white beans, and chorizo added a delightful complexity and undertones of garlic to the dish.
Adventurous or not, I hope you give this dish a try.
Our Dinner Entrees at il Molo
I continued to satisfy my love of seafood by selecting the Miso-Glazed Salmon with Roasted Brussels Sprouts for dinner.
Note: If you love seafood as I do, you’ll want to check out il Molo’s Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmastime. (Details follow in the resource list, below.)
This generous portion of salmon topped a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts. A small nest of magenta pickled onions and cress adorned the masterpiece, and a bright green flourish of pesto topped the dish, adding a colorful flair. It was almost too pretty to eat!
The quality of the salmon matches the fantastic presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
Jim opted to try a fresh pasta dish. His Bolognese showcased fresh-made pasta tossed with a sauce made of wild boar bacon, milk-fed veal, and Angus beef.
This Bolognese dish offers a break from seafood (if you must) and allows the pasta to shine without being overwhelmed by meat.
The bite I had reminded me of the pasta of my childhood made by my grandmother and hung to dry.
Clearly, il Molo creates their homemade pasta with similar care.
Inside Scoop: Honestly, we couldn’t even finish our entrees so after eating half, we package the rest to enjoy it the next day. Somehow, though, we found room for a sweet finish.
Cake for Dessert
I ordered a decadent slice of Chocolate Cake. It was a three-layered work of art with a not-too-sweet frosting (perhaps cappuccino?) and a dusting of cocoa.
Did I mention it was my birthday? Another slice of cake graced our table to celebrate this special occasion–a house-made Coconut Cake with a sparkling candle on top!
This moist, buttery cake with clouds of fresh cream and toasted shreds of flavorful coconut was extraordinary. It was light enough that you could eat this and almost not feel indulgent.
To say we left full would be an understatement.
We stuffed ourselves.
We thoroughly enjoyed every morsel at il Molo.
From the moment we walked in to our departure, the staff treated us with the utmost attention and served freshest, highest quality foods prepared to order at this incredible North End seafood restaurant.
After dinner, we walked along the harbor walk at Sergeant Pier taking in the city’s glow lights.
I watched the airplanes over East Boston leaving for far-away places and thought…there might be no better place in the world for this seafood-loving Bostonian to share a special occasion with someone special.
326 Commercial Street
Boston, MA 02109
The Feast of the 7 Fishes: An Italian Dinner Tradition
It’s called The Feast of the Seven Fishes with good reason.
In Italian, it’s called Festa dei sette pesci or La Vigilia (“The Eve”) and it’s an Italian Christmas Dinner.
Some argue the origins of this elaborate meal of soups, pasta dishes, appetizers, and entrees featuring copious fish and seafood.
(Does it seem like we Italian-Americans are always arguing? LOL)
Some say the feast is not Italian; instead, it’s an Italian-American tradition.
Others argue that while Italy does not celebrate the feast by name, the origins of it have roots in southern Italy.
Most agree it follows the Italian tradition to enjoy a large meatless Christmas Eve meal. The seven fishes may represent the seven sacraments, days of creation, and/or deadly sins.
No matter. It’s delicious any way you look at it.
Menu for The Feast of the Seven Fishes
At il Molo, Chef Pino creates incredible plates for The Feast of 7 Fishes.
In the days leading up to the holidays, you’ll find seven dishes inspired by the family traditions and Italian roots. The range from $18 and $42 (Lobster MKT) on this a la carte menu, which includes:
- Lobster Fra Diavolo
- Baccala “Two-Ways”
- Stuffed Calamari
- Razor Clams with Cherry Tomatoes
- Clams Oreganata
- Stuffed Lobster
As a guest, you’ll finish the Seven Fishes Meal with a complimentary Struffoli dessert, which is a pan-fried dough tossed with honey and sprinkles.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is available from Dec. 20-Dec. 24, 4-10pm. It’s a pretty small space, so definitely make reservations ahead.
You can plan on being immersed in an incredible culinary experience at il Molo. Judging from my experience, you won’t leave hungry.
Do you have a favorite way to celebrate the holidays with a special tradition? Let me know in the comments below.
This article is part of a sponsored collaboration.
Special thanks to Regan Communications and il Molo for providing us with a complimentary dining experience in Boston’s North End.
As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure.