Sonny Noto's (CLOSED)
22 Central Square, East Boston, MA 02128
While the North End and the South End of Boston seem to get a lot of the press when it comes to restaurants, there are other neighborhoods in the city that are terrific places to go to for dining out that don't really get the same notoriety. Allston and Dorchester are certainly two such places, with their array of eateries that include many cheap eats spots, and East Boston is another, especially for those who love Central American and South American fare. But Eastie isn't just a place to hit for empanadas, chicken hearts, or fish stew, as it still has a number of old-fashioned Italian and American eateries that reflect East Boston's past. One such spot--Sonny Noto's--tends to straddle the line between Italian and American, and it has been serving up inexpensive comfort food for several decades now. And for folks who like meat dishes, they have a few particularly good ones here.
Sonny Noto's is more or less located within sight of the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel in the Central Square section of East Boston, which is one of those classic white-knuckle intersections for which Beantown is known. Because drivers typically need to focus on all the roads (and cars) coming in and out of this massive intersection, it is very easy to miss exactly what kinds of businesses are located in the block, including Sonny Noto's. The bars on the windows and the brick front make the restaurant look a bit like a drinking spot (which it isn't), a convenience store, or perhaps a sub shop (which, in a way, wouldn't be too far from the truth), so folks who don't know about it might not give it a second thought as they drive by. The interior seems to combine the feel of a sub shop and a cafeteria, with its long counter to the left where folks order, and a rather spartan dining room to the right that is partitioned off from the ordering area and has a tile floor, brick walls, and a combination of booths and hard tables. Not surprisingly, many, if not most people come here for takeout, though there is a good amount of room inside for dining in.
The menu at Sonny Noto's has a bit of everything, with the breakfast section including omelettes, French toast and pancakes, and the lunch and dinner section including soups, salads, sandwiches, items off the grill, pasta dishes, and, well, one dessert (tiramisu). Indeed, there are few surprises on their menu, but at least a couple of their dishes are considered among the cream of the crop in the Boston area. Take the steak tips, for example; their tips may just rival those of the NewBridge Cafe in Chelsea (and that is saying a lot), with a tangy marinade sinking deep into the tips and the tips themselves being tender and juicy and with just enough fat for tremendous flavor. Another signature dish at Sonny Noto's is the steak and cheese sub, which is just a bit light on the cheese, allowing for the flavor of the shaved steak to really shine. Carl's in Waltham--which many consider to be the best in and around Boston--may be slightly better tasting, but for a more traditional steak and cheese (which Carl's is not, as they make theirs with steak "pellets"), the version at Sonny Noto's may just be at the top of the heap. Other favorites here include the sweet and slightly garlicky Italian sausage, the classic Italian sub, the Noto special (chicken cutlet, prosciutto, mozzarella, roasted red peppers), and the creamy chicken, broccoli, and ziti. (If you're a real meat lover, you might want to make your own mixed grill, getting both the steak tips and the sausage.) Drinks are limited to soda, iced tea, juice, and water (no alcohol here).
Sonny Noto's may not look like much from the outside (or from the inside, for that matter), but it is a must for folks who like steak tips, steak and cheese subs, and Italian dishes at reasonable prices. It is also a good option for diners who yearn for those old-school Boston spots that seem to be getting fewer and fewer with each passing year. [Ed note: There is now a second Sonny Noto's in Wakefield as well, on Water Street just south of the main strip downtown.]
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