The North End is known throughout Boston as “Little Italy.” Its streets are lined with restaurants, bakeries, and cafés inspired by the boot-shaped country. It’s the perfect place for a night out with friends, a date, or, in my case, a cannoli.
When walking around Hanover Street, the main entrance towards this Italian corner of culinary excellence, you will find that the longest lines, day and night, are at bakeries that sell cannolis. Bostonians take these ricotta cream-filled pastries very seriously, as I have found standing in lines for three of the most famous distributors.
257 Hanover St.
The line was 25 minutes long from start to finish, with those in front of me arguing about the distinction of Modern’s recipe and Mike’s, who’s doors were a few steps away, just down the street on the opposite side. I got very excited, maybe more than I should have.
Mike’s is arguably the most famous cannoli shop in The North End, even according to those trashing it in the Modern Pastry line, claiming that it’s a “tourist trap.” So, I thought that I was about to have the inside-scoop on being a “local,” tasting a real, authentic North End cannoli. But, sadly, that wasn’t the case.
In terms of taste, I didn’t think the cannoli was bad. It was so creamy the filling was spilling out of its shell in the box within minutes of being wrapped up. The shell had a good crunch, the true test of an artisanal cannoli, and the whole thing exploded on me after my first bite. The proportion of cream to shell was perfect, even on the ends, but the cream itself was an issue. It was very thick, yet too smooth and sweet. I couldn’t taste the ricotta and it was more like a thick stew texture. I could appreciate the intent—an effortless gentle creaminess—but something didn’t seem right. It was definitely not worth the wait or the 50 cent savings.
134 Salem St.
Open 24/7. No joke.
I am not kidding when I say there was no wait. We walked in, chose a cannoli, and walked out. On previous Saturday nights I have seen a line, but it’s never been very large. This alone gave it a boost since my legs were still tired from the Modern line.
The taste was smooth and fresh. The cream was sweet, but not too sweet and tasted like a cannoli, something I didn’t know I had to look out for. Not too thick, but not too creamy. It overpowered the shell a bit in the first bite, but the second was perfect. The shell had a crunch and was fresh. It was messy by extension, but I’ll definitely be back for more.
300 Hanover St.
This was actually our last stop. We saw the line for Mike’s bend at the curb and enjoyed our cannolis from both Bova’s and Modern in line. We got there at 5pm on-the-dot and it took us half an hour to get up to the counter. The line appeared longer from the sidewalk, but the outside length actually went fairly quickly, tricking us with false hopes. Maneuvering the small indoor line afterwards proved to be the most strenuous, taking up 20 of the 30 minutes.
It was actually a decent cannoli. The cream was good, not too thin or thick. It had a good ricotta flavor to it, rather than being completely sweet. The shell was crunchy but still light and airy—almost flakey. I made a huge mess. Overall, it was a good cannoli. No complaints on my part. I would have one again, if asked. It just wasn’t the best I’ve ever had.
With the shortest line, longest hours, and overall best tasting cannoli, the winning cannoli will always be at Bova’s. No question.
I am sorry that I looked confused when my editor told me to add Bova’s onto my original list. I am sorry that I looked surprised when my friend moaned with adoration when I mentioned it was on the list; apparently it’s an Emerson College secret hot-spot.
Days later, I am still thinking about that cannoli. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.
Photography by Tianna Loverde and Kenneth Cox