Boston, what a city. Home to some of the tastiest culinary creations, like the Parker House Rolls and the Boston Cream Pie, it’s also a city filled to the brim with immigrants from nations far and wide. Today, we’re talking about the Italians in Boston, the North End neighborhood, and more specifically, discovering the best cannoli in Boston!
Let’s get it out of the way and say it: this will be a controversial post. Why? Because when it comes to food, people really have a knack for having their favorites and sticking to them. To make it even worse, we’re in Boston, where opinions are taken way too seriously and when an outsider like me decides to swoop in and taste the top three cannoli bakeries in the North End, it’s not taken lightly. But to each their own I say – and away we go to taste cannoli!
Head up to the North End, Boston’s “Little Italy” and grab a plain cannoli from each of the following bakeries: Modern, Mike’s, and Maria’s. Notice I said plain – you want to sample the signature cannoli with just ricotta cream filling, crispy shell, and powdered sugar. No pistachios, no chocolate chips, no flavored cream fillings.
What we are judging each cannoli on:
The shell – is it thick or thin? crispy or not?
The filling – how sweet is it? what’s the texture like?
It’s a simple dessert pastry that originated in Sicily has taken over the North End, with visitors coming from all around the world and leaving with their little cardboard boxes wrapped in twine in hand. Without further ado, Boston’s Cannoli Challenge!
Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover Street, Boston
Our first stop brings us to Mike’s Pastry, probably the most popular and best known cannoli shop and Italian bakeries in the North End and where the lines at times are out the door, quite literally. It seems to be a rite of passing if you live in Boston to wait in line late night for a cannoli and with over 19 varieties of cannoli you can get, I understand why everyone boards their flights out of Boston highly holding a blue and white cardboard box from Mike’s. They’ve been in business since 1946 and continue to expand over the years, with new locations opening in Cambridge and Somerville.
How were their cannoli? In my opinion, Mike’s is my least favorite. Sorry to disappoint, but they just don’t do it for me and here’s why: their shell is on the thick side, which isn’t as pleasant as biting through a thinner shell, and also their ricotta cream seems to have way too much powdered sugar in it, not only making it super sweet, but altering the texture so it has a grainy mouthfeel.
To Mike’s defense, thousands of people obviously love them, one of them being Spoon University: “Nothing completes a night of legit Italian food in the North End like a Mike’s dessert.”
Modern Pastry Shop, 257 Hanover Street, Boston
Our second stop brings us to Modern Pastry Shop, a favorite of many and for a few years, a favorite of mine as well. I love the look of Modern, with it’s Art Deco feel and colors, it’s definitely a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Three generations of Italian bakers are what stand behind their recipes and once you taste their treats, you’ll understand why Modern is everyone else’s favorite. It’s won Best Cannoli for Best of Boston in 1997, 1999, and 2009, which is understandable. Their cannoli are delicious – five years ago when I first had a cannoli, Modern became my instant favorite because of their thin, crispy shell and luxurious cream.
How were their cannoli? Pretty amazing to be honest. If my favorite spot (scroll to the last one to see which one it is) didn’t exist, Modern would be my #1 cannoli in the North End. It’s everything you want in a cannoli – thin shell, with a not too sweet ricotta cream filling with a slight aroma of vanilla. For a lot of people, Modern is the only place they ever step foot to get a cannoli and I know why. But alas, not the winner in my book.
Maria’s Pastry Shop, 46 Cross Street, Boston
Yes, I did leave the best for last and my all time favorite is hands down Maria’s Pastry Shop! We first tasted her cannoli about two years ago and my life changed after that first bite. Maria’s is on the “outskirts” of the North End, but the first pastry shop you’ll see when you’re entering the area from the Seaport. It’s a woman-owned business, which a quick peek in the kitchen confirms. Generations of Italian women are inside rolling out doughs, cutting out cookies, and creating the most marvelous treats. Keep reading to know why Maria’s is my favorite cannoli – and should be yours too!
How were their cannoli? The best, seriously. Like I said, Modern’s cannoli are delicious but Maria’s just take it over the edge with their perfection. In my opinion, it’s the least sweet of all three, which makes me happy. This allows us to taste the rich milk ricotta flavor in the cream, the hint of vanilla, and an overall just purely smooth cream. The shell is not the thinnest, but it’s an in between of Mike’s and Modern and just the right crispy shell needed to carry the cream.
Their award-winning cannoli are a must have if you’re in Boston and I promise you, it took my friend and I (both trained chefs) a good hour to taste these three cannoli and figure out the positives and negatives of each. We did not take it lightly, so it’s safe to say that:
Maria’s Pastry Shop has THE BEST cannoli in Boston!
Have you ever had a cannoli? Ever tasted your way through Boston’s North End eating cannoli? Which is your favorite? I want to know it all, so please leave a comment below and let me know!
Other great cannoli recaps include “ALL THE CANNOLI IN THE NORTH END WORTH EATING” by Thrillist; “Cannoli Wars – Mike’s Pastry vs. Modern Pastry – Boston, MA“ by Pratesi Living; “A North End Cannoli Crawl” by Eater Boston; and “3 Top Pastry Shops in Boston’s Sweet North End” by Mass Vacation.
And if you’re planning a trip to Boston, make sure to read my other posts on this incredible city in preparation for your trip or email me at marnely (at) gmail (dot) com if you need any ideas on what to eat, see, and do in Boston!