Best Italian in the ‘Burbs

I’ll be the first to sing the praises of the North End, but let’s face it – it’s not always convenient to get to the city for great Italian food, and Italian may just be the perfect cuisine – it can be comfort food or fine dining, depending on your mood.  Luckily, there are several great options for those of us living hectic lives outside of the city.  Here are my top five – and one runner-up (drum roll, please!):

Runner-Up: Tomasso Trattoria, Southborough, MA – This restaurant is a bit of a hike for me, and it is easy to over-order (and over-spend), but I couldn’t leave this restaurant entirely off the list.  I could make a meal of their antipasti alone (perfect meatballs!), and I enjoy the flexibility that their menu offers with multiple courses to choose from.  They have a fabulous wine list, too.  I also noticed in perusing their website again that they now offer a pris-fixe menu on some evenings…I sense a return trip coming on!

5. Ristorante Molise, Amesbury, MA – While I was disappointed to find higher prices and smaller portions on a recent visit, I love this restaurant for their ample options and rich food.  They have a lovely location in downtown Amesbury as well as a location in Wakefield that I haven’t tried yet.

4. The Chateau, Andover or Waltham, MA – This family-owned restaurant has several locations (some under different names) and every location that I have visited has consistently offered extremely affordable Italian comfort food in large quantities.  I grew up eating their fried ravioli and I also adore their eggplant parmigiana.  This is a great family restaurant.

3. Bella Italia, Tyngsboro, MA – This unassuming restaurant offers authentic Italian food at reasonable prices.  The atmosphere is simple and homey, complete with a fireplace.  My favorites include their Gnocchi Parmigiana, Carbonara, Lasagna, and Rotini Filanti.

2. The Colosseum Restaurant, Salem, NH – You may not expect to find North End quality food in a strip mall, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  My only complaint is that the atmosphere is a bit lacking – the restaurant is a bit garish with dated decor, and it can be noisy at times.  That said, they consistsently wow me with their fresh ingredients, authentic offerings, and complex flavors.  And if you like Italian desserts (or any desserts, really), you will do yourself a great disservice if you don’t see their dessert cart – it is larger than the hostess cart on an airplane, and offerings change frequently.  There are mainstays such as Tiramisu and Cannoli, but there are new surprises on each and every visit.

1. Tuscan Grill, Waltham, MA – I hesitated to place this in my coveted #1 spot, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have only eaten there once (and saddened that it took me so long to discover it).  However, they offered me my most memorable Italian meal outside of Boston in 2008, so it earned the rights to #1!  It is a bit pricier than some of my other options, but it offers more ambiance  and upscale dining as well.  I still salivate months later when I think about the pizzetta appetizer topped with figs, honey, and gorgonzola.  It was perhaps the perfect food.  When you also take into account the great wine, innovative entrees, and cozy Tuscan-inspired decor it is perfect for a romantic Italian get-away!  (Some menu items have changed since my last visit).


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