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Modern Italian restaurants and upscale Italian eateries can be great spots to go for meat and seafood dishes, inventive pasta plates, and interesting cocktails and liqueurs, but sometimes you just want to eat a plate of chicken parm while in a place that hasn't changed its look in 50 years. A handful of such places are below, including some that aren't all that well-known--and a few that have been around forever.
1) Al Dente, Boston (North End)
Once you get off tourist-heavy Hanover Street in the North End, you start to find local hangouts that are more about food and value than anything. This Salem Street spot is just such a place, with its rather dark and plain atmosphere where patrons dine on big plates of pasta while drinking Campari or Italian wines. It may not have the name recognition of a restaurant like Giacomo's, but the neighborhood folks seem to be plenty ok with that.
2) Mario's Italian Restaurant, Lexington
This Lexington Center dining spot has been in business for a long time, and other than recently gaining a liquor license (it was BYO for many years), not much has changed here. Diners come to Mario's for a number of items, including a tremendous baked ziti with bechamel, a thin-crust pizza that's about the best in town, and the type of traditional lasagna that you used to see a lot more of back when it seemed like every town had Italian-American restaurants.
3) Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale
The name may throw some, but Pleasant Cafe is certainly more Italian-American than anything, with its glorious takes on chicken and veal parm, pizza, lasagna, prime rib, and so much more. Another big draw of this old-timey place near the West Roxbury line is its extensive drink list, which includes all kinds of cocktails that were popular 50 or even 100 years ago, including Harvey Wallbangers, Ward Eights, and Sidecars.
4) Bocelli's, Medford
South Medford is one of the Boston area's last remaining Italian-American neighborhoods, and old-fashioned restaurants, bakeries, pastry shops, and markets/delis still line Main Street after all these years. And Bocelli's remains a destination spot here, with its "hidden" basement room accessed by a steep staircase to the side and where you'll hear Sinatra playing in the background while dining on huge plates of food served with glasses of wine.
5) Cafe Venice, Norwood
One part dive bar and one part family-friendly Italian restaurant, this South Norwood mainstay is way under the radar but remains a popular spot for locals looking for hearty dishes of food at good prices. Cafe Venice doesn't pretend to be flashy or trendy, instead seating customers in a very quiet and basic dining room away from the bar area and serving up such items as stuffed shells, shrimp scampi, Italian sausage, and a huge chicken parm.
6) Jeveli's Restaurant, East Boston
Considered by some to be the oldest Italian restaurant within the Boston city limits (although some consider Marliave in downtown Boston to take that title), this wonderful old Day Square spot almost looks like a stage set for an old-fashioned red sauce joint, but it's about as real as you'll find. East Boston locals come here for a lot of great food options, including escarole soup, a mountain of an antipasto plate, veal marsala, lasagna, lobster ravioli, and spumoni.
7) Pagliuca's, Boston
Another North End eatery that's off the beaten path (though much closer to Hanover Street than the aforementioned Al Dente), Pagliuca's is a thoroughly old-school spot, with a simple layout, servers who call you "honey," and food that will fill you up fast, but in a good way. Simple is the way to go here, with some highlights including a sublime eggplant parmigiana, a basic but delicious linguine with garlic and oil, and a classic chicken cacciatore.
8) Maria's Restaurant, Braintree
Perhaps the only restaurant on the list that could be considered a fusion spot (it is both Italian and Greek), this South Shore eatery has loads of atmosphere that includes statues and murals along with comfortable old booths. Maria's is another one of those places that only locals seem to know about, and they come for great takes on chicken parm, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, and calamari, while sipping on Campari, Sambuca, and Frangelico.
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