Got garlic? If not, you’ll find plenty in Boston’s North End. The pungent aroma of this flavorful herb will give your olfactory glands a workout for sure, and you won’t have to move a muscle. All you have to do is stand on any street corner and inhale. Little wonder, given the inexhaustible supply of Italian restaurants lining the North End’s streets. And every one of them is shouting “Mangia!”

The North End is rich in food, culture and history and is as European as it gets this side of the Atlantic. Store windows are showcases for wheels of yellow cheese, spicy salami in natural casings and vibrantly colored marzipan, not to mention cannolis. Italians living outside of Boston come here to shop for hard-to-find delicacies specific to holidays like Christmas and Easter.

From an historical perspective, the home where Paul Revere lived from 1770 to 1800 on North Square is still standing. While living here, Revere performed the patriotic acts he was famous for such as the Boston Tea Party and his night ride to warn the Lexington and Concord residents of the approaching British Redcoats. Revere, ever the patriot, planned the hanging of warning lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church on April 18 prior to his famous ride from Lexington to Concord.

Along Hanover Street in summertime the people born and raised in the North End sit at outdoor cafes sipping espresso while talking animatedly in their native tongue. A few blocks away in a neighborhood park men play bocce, the Italian version of bowling, past dark. Tiny dogs on leashes stroll the streets with their proud owners. And tourists fortunate enough to find a parking space, are then able to wander the narrow, winding streets in search of the perfect restaurant.

Though Giacomo’s, Lucia’s, Limoncello, Mamma Maria’s and 5 North Square lead the way in popularity, there’s another restaurant worth trying: Ida’s. This hole-in-the-wall is at the end of an alley called Mechanic Street, just off the south end of Hanover. Its capacity is about 24 people and is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Patrons at Ida’s might sit next to strangers, but when it comes time to pay the bill, chances are they’ve exchanged E-mail addresses or telephone numbers. Leave it to communal dining. Tables are so close together, it’s nearly impossible for conversations not to overlap.

North End Italians know how to give a party, and they take to the streets to celebrate at least ten times a year. Early in August, for example, the annual grand religious feast is held in honor of Madonna Della Cava. This festival coincides with a similar event held in Pietraperzia, Sicily.

A beautiful cloth banner bearing the Madonna’s image is carried throughout the North End during the procession to collect money and valuables donated by the people who live there. During the 1930s and 1940s, a special raffle took place and the prize was a lamb, representing sacrifice.

During these religious festivals, food vendors sell pizza and sausage, onions and peppers. Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “I’ll Take Manhattan” and “Summer Wind” are just as likely to be heard above the din as are marching bands.

The North End continues to guard its secrets, including hidden tunnels through which contraband has been smuggled over the years. To take in all the sights, local tour companies take visitors on excursions so they can learn about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, view the birthplace of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy at 6 Garden Court and pay their respects to the many merchants, artisans and craftspeople who lived and worked in the North End and who are now buried at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground but it is the food that keeps locals and visitors coming back time and time again.

What and Where:
Paul Revere House (19 North Sq; 617-523-1676)
Giacomo’s Ristorante
(355 Hanover St; 617-523-9026)
Ristorante Lucia’s (415 Hanover St; 617-367-2353)
Limoncello Ristorante (190 North St; 617-523-4480)
Mamma Maria’s Restaurant (3 North Sq; 617- 523-0077)
5 North Square (5 North Sq; 617-720-1050)
Ida’s Restaurant (3 Mechanic St; 617-523-0015)
Paul Revere House (19 North Sq; 617-523-1676)
Call 1-800-SEE-BOSTON for tour information.

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