When visitors want to savor the North End like a native, they turn to 47-year resident Michele Topor. The former cooking teacher has run The North End Market Tour since 1994, leading eager eaters on a gastronomic exploration of beloved markets and hidden gems. These are some of her favorites.
At Bricco Panetteria (above right), “they use King Arthur Flour — simple, unbleached — natural yeast, sea salt. That’s it. Just rustic, wonderful bread,” Topor says. “I love bringing people there, because it’s down a little alley behind Bricco Restaurant. Just like in Italy, you can’t miss the little alleys, because you find a little treasure at the end.”
Bricco Panetteria, 241R Hanover Street, Boston, 617-248-9859, bricco.com/panetteria
COFFEE AND SPICES
Polcari’s “looks like it did when it first opened” more than 80 years ago, Topor says. In addition to a wide array of coffees, “they have such an incredible selection of things you can’t find anymore, like licorice roots. They have Italian baking powder, which is wonderful, and real Italian Nutella, not the American stuff.”
Polcari’s Coffee, 105 Salem Street, Boston, 617-227-0786, polcariscoffee.com
If you can find Alba Produce — there’s no sign — you’ll spy regulars lingering over escarole, broccoli rabe, and what Topor calls the best fennel in town. It’s run by “a wonderful young man who tries to buy local when he can,” she says. “People go in and chitchat, and I think that’s what makes the neighborhood. It’s not just shopping; it’s socializing.”
Alba Produce, 18 Parmenter Street, Boston
WINE AND SPIRITS
V. Cirace & Son “has been run by the same family for over 100 years. They had liquor license number one after Prohibition,” Topor says. “Now it’s like walking into an elegant high-end store in Italy.” You’ll find an unbelievable array of grappas and the digestives known as amari. “They have a selection like I’ve never seen outside of Italy.”
V. Cirace & Son, 173 North Street, Boston, 617-227-3193, vcirace.com
The folks behind Monica’s Mercato will open a pasta shop in the near future. In the meantime, they sell plump ravioli and more at their market. “Their fresh pasta is so incredible. You need to go in there and look at it!” Topor says. “It’s so thin, you can see the filling.” Head downstairs for crispy pizza by the slice, topped with market ingredients.
Monica’s Mercato Salumeria, 130 Salem Street, Boston, 617-742-4101, monicasboston.com/salumeria/pasta
VINEGARS AND OILS
Topor stops at Bricco Salumeria for pantry staples. “They have beautiful balsamic vinegars, olive oils, all authentic. And marinated octopus that’s just so delicious,” she says. “It looks just like going into a salumeria in Italy.” Another plus: gluten-free pasta.
Bricco Salumeria, 11 Board Alley, Boston, 617-248-9629, briccosalumeria.com
> Learn more about Michele Topor’s tours at bostonfoodtours.com.Kara Baskin is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @BostonGlobeMag.