Note: While this review focuses on the North End location, Giacomo’s also hosts a South End version (which takes reservations and is generally less-crowded) and a Melrose spot outside of the city(location soon-to-come).
Penne with pesto cream sauce, shrimp, and chicken
“The pasta is coming! The pasta is coming!” I’m pretty sure that’s what Paul Revere actually meant on April 18, 1775, due to his psychic ability to foresee that his neighborhood would be known as Boston’s historic North End one day, filled to the brim with savory Italian cuisine, bakeries, and gelaterias. In fact, had Mr. Revere survived until the modern day, his house would have been just a stone’s throw away from a restaurant so scrumptious that I’m not sure that any food review will do it justice. Therefore, until you are able to visit in-person yourself and experience all that is Giacomo’s, I just wanted to share a few experiences and tips so you can better plan your trip to this excellent eatery.
You will see a line. In fact, every trip prior to the North End, my friends, family, and I would see this infamous, unique line, and become both curious and discouraged about eating at Giacomo’s (even most tourists just refer to it as “That-place-with-the-Line.” The best way to avoid the line that will inevitably wrap all the way around the corner of the block, is, of course, to arrive as much as thirty minutes to one hour before their opening time. However, should you find yourself waiting in the queue, Giacomo’s prides themselves on their speedy table-turning. I promise that the meal will be worth it – good things come to those who wait, eh?
Once you look past the line, Giacomo’s is situated on the main street in the historic North End district of Boston, Hanover Street, which is lined with dozens of other tempting eateries. Giacomo’s is quite small, and do not expect to be able to move around the restaurant much once you are inside. However, the servers are extremely accommodating of larger parties, and will deftly navigate the tables during your visit, creating a very “home-y” ambiance in this cozy space with exposed red brick and an open kitchen, allowing the savory smells of the dishes to waft throughout the restaurant.
Giacomo’s is able to turn tables at such a reasonable rate because, as one charming, matriarchal waitress told me once, “We don’t mess around here. We just do dinner right!” (No dessert menus, and the restaurant is only open for dinner daily.)
That being said, save dessert for Modern Pastry or Mike’s Pastry down the street, and supplement your delicious meal with an even more delightful appetizer. Based on personal experience, start off the night right with the classic calamari (a generous portion here) or burrata (a ball of fresh mozzarella filled with creamy marscapone cheese). The fact that this restaurant convinced my younger sister to enjoy steamed and sautéed broccoli raab (bathed in garlic and butter) speaks volumes. While the bread that arrived to the table was hearty, one of my visits to the restaurant (with other Sporkers, coincidentally!) earned us some crunchy garlic bread on-the-house – heavenly.
You will not find much red meat at this restaurant, but the fresh seafood, chicken, and even vegetarian options will please any steak-eaters out there.
Giacomo’s offers the classic Italian frutti di mare platter, abundant with mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari, and clams to please any seafood-lover. There is also a zuppa di pesce option for you and a date or friend to enjoy, a seafood extravaganza for two that offers the ingredients of frutti di mare and also includes lobster with the linguine.
The menu offers just over 16 types of pasta dishes, but don’t fret – it would be safe to say that any choice is a superb choice here. My personal favorite (and the reason I return to Giacomo’s quite often) is their creamy pesto with penne, chicken, and shrimp (beginning photo) – definitely the best pesto I have had up here in Boston, and probably, I would venture to say, in my short lifetime. Even the day-old leftovers will leave you wanting more.
Vegetarians, rejoice! The eggplant parmigiana is quite tasty here, but the true winners are the pumpkin tortellini and the butternut squash ravioli (these arrive smothered in a marscapone cream sauce). Both my vegetarian and my omnivore friends swear by these dishes. I have even seen some tables inventively order pasta (namely these two dishes) as an appetizer for the table, so that everyone can sample them!
Butternut squash ravioli
If you’re seeking a classic dish, like chicken/veal marsala, chicken/veal parmigiana, or grilled salmon, Giacomo’s menu boasts an extensive assortment of these types of entrees, with delectable sides including artichoke hearts, crispy potato cakes, or prosciutto and fontina cheese stuffing. Everyone I have eaten here with has been pleased with their dish and their dining experience.
Giacomo’s boasts a fairly varied drink menu, and the best thing about it is the cheap – but tasty – wine. $6.00 glasses start the menu off, so you won’t feel guilty about treating yourself to a nice sit-down Italian dinner.
I’ve learned from being a college student living in Boston that eating out in the North End often is not as feasible as you’d imagine it to be, due to the sit-down, sophisticated nature (and, mainly, the prices) at most of the restaurants. (Note: all three restaurants are all-cash, so be prepared!) However, discovering Giacomo’s makes it possible to procure a delicious, generously portioned meal at a college student/young professional-friendly price, with a genial atmosphere to boot.
Each of my visits has resulted in a pleased stomach and taste buds, very amiable and good-natured servers, content family and friends, and bi-weekly cravings for homemade pasta or their delicious appetizers in between visits. Bring your family here. Bring your friends here. Bring your significant others here. Bring your pets here (actually, there’s probably a policy against that, but you get it). Buon appetito!
Post and Photos by Stephanie Cohen.