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Maria Di Napoli Ristorante (CLOSED)

344 Watertown Street, Newton, MA 02458
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--- Winner, Best Pizza in Boston Area, 2011 ---

Photo of Maria Di Napoli Ristorante, Newton, MA One of the best Italian restaurants in the western suburbs of Boston resides in the Nonantum section of Newton, which is a working-class neighborhood that many Italian-American folks call home. The eatery is a friendly, cozy spot with outstanding house-made pastas, a terrific version of red sauce (or "gravy"), and desserts that may make you forget about some of the pastry shops in Boston's North End. By now, you may be thinking that we are talking about Vecchia Roma, but for this review, we are not; as much as we love that great little spot (and have reviewed it at, this time we are talking about an even less-known restaurant that is only about a block away. The place? Maria Di Napoli Ristorante, a casual, family-run spot that gives diners one more reason to head over to this interesting section of Newton.

Much like its neighbor Vecchia Roma, Maria Di Napoli Ristorante is very easy to miss, in part because it is along a stretch of Watertown Street that has a number of little shops and eateries, none of which really stand out over any of the others. From the outside, it is difficult to tell whether the eatery is a cafe, a takeout place, or a full-service sitdown restaurant, but it is indeed the latter, though it is not quite as intimate or romantic-looking as Vecchia Roma. Instead, Maria Di Napoli has the look and feel of a spartan, no-frills spot that is all about the food and little else, in a way, almost like the wonderful Sicilian pizza place Galleria Umberto in the North End. This is not to say that Maria Di Napoli is an unattractive spot; on the contrary, the curtained windows, black-and-white tile floor, paintings on the walls, warm lighting throughout, and decorative lights along the front all lend the place a rather old-school feel that is about as unpretentious as you will find. Tables are set up along the walls and in the middle of the single room, and the tables can easily be pushed together for large groups.

The food served at Maria Di Napoli Ristorante is influenced by the cuisine of Naples, as the chef at this eatery originally comes from that part of Italy. Take, for instance, the Napoli-style pizza here; it is absolutely heavenly, with a thin crust that has a slight char on the bottom (along with a dusting of flour), a red sauce that is spicy and rich, a mild cheese that is slightly nutty, and a sprinkling of Italian herbs that complements the tastes of the other ingredients perfectly. It is not a stretch to say that the pizza at Maria Di Napoli could stand up to such greats as Gran Gusto in Cambridge (another place with Napoli influences) or even Pizzeria Regina in the North End--it is that good. Other items at Maria Di Napoli are also quite impressive, with the antipasto featuring high-quality prosciutto imported from Italy and cubes of mozzarella that are mild and delightfully chewy; cavatelli that comes with a hearty bolognese sauce that tastes like it has been simmering all day long; a savory dish of freshly-made fettucine topped with ground beef, minced onions, and green peas; and several familiar dishes such as eggplant parmigiana, gnocchi, house-made Italian sausage, and chicken picatta. Wine and beer are available at Maria Di Napoli, with single glasses of wine being a relative steal, price-wise. Some of the desserts offered here are made on the premises, including an absurdly rich tiramisu and cannoli that are stuffed on the spot.

It is difficult to find any faults to Maria Di Napoli Ristorante; the food is fantastic, the owners are warm and friendly, the space is appealing, the prices are fair, and the parking is relatively stress-free. Sure, Vecchia Roma remains one of our personal favorites in the Boston area for Italian food, but this humble little spot a few doors down is every bit as good, and could perhaps be considered a slightly more casual and less pricey option to its neighbor.