The North End of Boston may not seem like a place that has many little-known neighborhood dining spots, but it does have a few, including an old-school Sicilian pizza place right in the heart of everything on busy Hanover Street. Hidden among the bustling trattorias, trendy ristorantes, and old-fashioned cafes and bakeries of the neighborhood, Galleria Umberto represents what the North End of old was like. Housed in what can only be described as a cross between a cafeteria and a dining hall, Galleria Umberto is a lunch-only, bare-bones, humble little storefront that serves some of the best pizza in the Boston area.
The lines at Galleria Umberto are sometimes long, as businesspeople, locals, and the handful of tourists who have read up on the North End wait their turn for thick, square pieces of Sicilian pizza. People sit on hard chairs at the basic tables scattered about the place and eat slice after slice of pizza under the dim lights and wall murals as the somewhat ominous hum of an old freezer or refrigerator reverberates throughout the place. If the atmosphere at Galleria Umberto sounds like a bit of a turn-off, the incredibly delicious squares of pizza, which by the way, are little more than a buck a slice, more than make up for the minor shortcomings of this North End joint. [Ed note: Here's a second look at the pizza.] And the people behind the counter are friendly, funny, and entertaining, and obviously love what they are doing, which is indeed somewhat uncommon these days. For those who might not want pizza, Galleria Umberto has some other similarly terrific items, including arancini (gooey, rich-tasting, and delicious, by the way), panini, panzarotti (fried pockets of dough filled with potato and cheese), and calzones.
While restaurant guides, Web sites, and radio shows commonly rave (and rightly so) about such great Boston pizza places as Pizzeria Regina, which is also in the North End, Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston, and Emma's in Cambridge, Galleria Umberto is often left behind. Perhaps it is because Galleria Umberto serves Sicilian pizza, which is much different from the Neapolitan and gourmet pizzas served at the other places. Or maybe it is the fact that Galleria Umberto is only open for lunch (and closing time is based on when the pizza runs out). Or it could be that many don't even know the place exists, as the storefront looks almost like a union hall or a private club from the outside. But Umberto deserves its place among the best Boston pizza places, as the outstanding squares served here are little slices of heaven that bring loyal customers back to this North End pizza joint again and again.
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