Photos and Words by Lindsay Smith
While walking down Hanover Street in the North End, a lot of the restaurants look the same. Many boast candlelit rooms, small quaint tables, nicely dressed waiters, and formal atmospheres. The problem is that there aren’t too many restaurants where a boisterous group of college students can go out for a casual dinner together without having to cram themselves in one of these intimate, fancy places. Not to mention sometimes the prices can be a bit steep for us “struggling college students”.One place in the North End does break through these barriers to unveil a simpler, more casual, and cheaper dining experience; it’s a humble place right on Hanover. Il Panino Express, located at 264 Hanover Street, flaunts an entirely different North End dining experience of its own. The décor is much simpler, the tables are easily moved to accommodate bigger groups, and the food is served in a different style. The owners of the restaurant understand that you’re there to eat some good Italian food and enjoy a dinner with friends.
So what is the style of this restaurant and why is it different? Well, most other Hanover Street restaurants are typically organized with hostesses and waiters. Il Panino Express takes it down a notch. The food is made to order at a counter, where you simply go up and tell the chefs what you want. Then you’re name is called, you pick up the food, and sit down to a scrumptious meal.
The price is a lot friendlier too. It depends on what you order, but the menu displays reasonable prices ranging anywhere from $8-$9 to $14-$16. And if you’re a frugal diner, the portions could definitely be split! This is much more reasonable for students than other North End restaurants that keep their prices in the twenties. The omission of a wait staff also reduces cost because there’s not need to tip! Drinks are filled at a fountain machine outside of the counter, so refills are free too! You definitely get the biggest bang for your buck.
Now for the important stuff—the food! The menu ranges anywhere from subs, calzones, pizza, fresh salads, and mouth-watering pasta dishes. All of the ingredients are extremely fresh and on display behind the counter. It’s pretty entertaining to watch the chefs make the food as well.
Upon reading the menu, I quickly decided to try the Pasta Sorrentina— a delectable dish of penne pasta generously covered in tomato sauce, basil, and melted mozzarella cheese. It was served with a crispy, chewy piece of bread on the side. The portions alone are worth the money. The plate of pasta was humongous, and I ended up taking half home with me. My friends ordered other dishes such as the eggplant parmesan sub, the grilled chicken Caesar salad, and the pesto penne. All of them were delicious. Again, the portions were big, so dishes can be shared!
The hours are very convenient as well. For most days of the week, Il Panino Express is open until eleven at night. So if you get a craving for Italian late at night, you could make it!
The great thing about this restaurant is that it’s simple, satisfying, casual, and less expensive. It’s definitely a place to go with friends. It boasts fresh, delicious, and relatively inexpensive food. Oh, and the “express” style allows you to eat quickly and still have plenty of time to explore the North End. (Not to mention Mike’s Pastry is pretty close for dessert!) What’s not to love?
Hours: Mon-Sun 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Address: 264 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02113