Boston’s North End is a European metropolitan center, known for its simple and delicious food. It is home to one of America’s finest pizza places, Galleria Umberto. It is a classic Italian pizzeria, with walls full of art, pizza trays flying everywhere, Italian accents floating around and, even better, locals! It is known for its pizza, calzones, panzerotti and an Italian favorite, arancini, otherwise known as a rice ball.
This is a famous restaurant accredited with many awards, including the James Beard’s “American Classic” award in 2018. It averages a rating of 4.6 on Yelp and 4.7 on TripAdvisor. The Phantom Gourmet named it in the top eight great restaurants in the North End in 2018. So today we will take a live tour to see what’s really going on behind the scenes and if Umberto’s lives up to its reputation.
When I go into the restaurant, I see a huge line full of tourists, businessmen, teens, kids and locals. However, when I walk into the pizza parlor, I sense a family kitchen vibe to it. The place is humming and crowded with people who are as eager as me to taste what the place has to offer. As I wait in line, I overhear locals rave about the food and its awards, only making the food sound more appetizing.
When I get to the front, I can see the cooks, who I find out are mostly siblings, urgently getting more food prepared. The man at the counter looks over and says in a heavy North End Italian accent, “Whaddya want?” I glance at the food which looks as delectable as it sounds and think to order. The man at the counter says, “Hey kid, listen, I can’t wait all day, couldya please tell me whatcha want?” I order two of the cheese pizzas, panzarotti, a calzone and two arancini. Immediately, the man grabs all the food with lightning hands and packages my items neatly into a box. He finishes it with a bow made out of string. Urgently, I go to find a seat, only to find out the tables are already all taken. I ask the second man if the place is always this crowded. He says that usually there are more people, and this was a slow day for them. The line is well out the door. Since I can’t sit at a table, I go to the nearest park, known as the Nazzaro, outside the building. It is an old bath house made many years back for the residents of the North End. It’ll do.
The pizza is soft and semi-doughy enough to soak up tomato sauce, which has a homemade look to it. The two complement each other beautifully.
There is a decent amount of oil, but most importantly the pizza tastes as if it were made directly from an Italian nunu (grandmother). Hot and clearly fresh out of the oven, it adds a home-y sense to the place only making it a better experience for me, or even those who do not know Italian culture as well.
Next I eat the panzarotti (one of my personal favorites) which looks evenly brown and is aromatic. In short, a panzarotti is like a humongous mozzarella stick, with gooey cheese in the center that comes out almost like in a commercial.
Nothing but excellence is what I have tasted so far.
Next I have the Italian classic — the rice ball, or as it’s known in Italian, Arancini (aran-chini). Any good Italian place should know what these are and also should be able to make them (assuming it is 100% Italian food). It is a deep fried ball made out of rice that has cheese and meat (optional) in it. They come in two ways at Umberto’s, (among many other variations) which is ground beef and peas and plain old cheese. The perfect arancini is light medium brown on the outside and light on the inside. It shouldn’t be too deep fried and it must have gooey cheese in the center. This is almost the case as I notice that the rushing of the plates at Galleria’s makes the dish a little too dark (not burnt) but enough to destroy the effect that is supposed to come out of a place of this status. However, if you didn’t know this, then they would still be perfectly delectable.
Next is the calzone (cal-zone-ey), which has spinach and cheese. This is only decent. My only concern of the food is that it's too overcooked for me and the cheese is too gooey; the spinach is slightly burnt on the edges.
The restaurant in my opinion is perfect for a family and also for college students. It has cheap prices for amazing food. It’s perfect for a person who is set on trying traditional Sicilian food and learning the culture. If you are a food critic like me, I think this is a place to go. Fun fact: the only way the place closes is when the food runs out, so they buy new ingredients and make this food everyday, nice and fresh.
Find Galleria Umberto at 289 Hanover St. in the North End, a short walk from Haymarket station on the orange line.
Open Monday through Saturday from 10:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.