Nick Varano was raised in the North End and started working in his family's Italian restaurant when he was just 12 years old, so it seems predestined that this son of Italian immigrants would go on to make an indelible mark on the dining scene in and around Boston. The now 45-year-old Lynnfield resident, who, with his wife, Michelle, has two children (ages 19 and 21) is the owner of seven restaurants — including Strega Ristorante and Nico's Ristorante Wine Bar & Lounge, both on Hanover Street, and, most recently, STRIP at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel in the Back Bay — and several cafes. With plans to open another restaurant later this year at a yet-to-be-announced location in Cambridge, Varano doesn't have much time for travel, but when he does, it's the southern coast of Italy that beckons. We caught up with the popular restaurateur to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation spot? The Amalfi Coast — it's just breathtaking. You can stay on a boat all day and travel to the different little islands. I love all the little shops and restaurants. The views are unlike anything you will see anywhere else.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing? Wherever I go, I always seek out a pasta specialty.
Where would you like to travel to but haven't? Greece and Spain are at the top of my list of places I'd love to visit. I haven't been to either country because I tend to visit locations that I'm familiar with for a quick getaway.
One item you can't leave home without when traveling? My backpack. Some of the things that are always in it are snacks, a bottle of water, and a great pair of sunglasses.
Aisle or window? Definitely a window seat for me. I like to see the world below as I'm flying. Plus, I like to rest my head to the side when I sleep.
Favorite childhood travel memory? When I used to go to Italy with my mother and we would sit in the piazza and people watch.
Guilty pleasure when traveling? I love trying new types of food. I tend to indulge when I am away.
Best travel tip? Always overpack and be prepared for anything. Also, it's important to try and embrace other cultures, wherever you may be. You can learn a lot from the locals. I'm not one of those guys who goes on Yelp. I'd rather go to the coffee shops and ask the locals what they would suggest. Wherever they go is where I want to go.