Where to Find the Best Cannoli in Boston | North End Bakery Tour

In the North End, almost any take on cannoli is a good bet, but one bakery stands above the rest for the quality of its filling. Learn where to find the best cannoli in Boston in this North End bakery tour.

By Amy Traverso

Mar 21 2022

Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

[Editor’s note: We were sad to learn that Maria’s, the beloved North End bakery and winner of this “Best Cannoli” taste-off, closed in September 2019. We have decided, nevertheless, to preserve the original text of this August, 2018 story below. Maria Merola devoted many decades of her life to serving excellent pastry at her namesake bakery, and we want to continue to honor her work here. But here’s the good news: Modern Pastry, the second-place finisher, was a very close second. The cannoli are excellent. As are those from Mike’s and Bova’s. As the story says, “All the cannoli in the North End are good. There really aren’t any clunkers…” So while we miss Maria’s, we can still enjoy a stroll down Hanover Street on any given night, cannoli in hand, feeling that all is right with the world.]

It’s a summer night in the North End. A man with a young boy in tow stops me on the street and asks, “Which cannoli is best: Mike’s, Bova’s, or Modern?” I laugh. As it happens, I’m here on a mission to answer exactly that question…to find the best cannoli in Boston. “That’s just where I’m headed,” I reply. “Follow me.”

As all the tourists toting their string-tied white boxes know, you haven’t truly experienced Boston’s North End unless you’ve stopped at one of the top four bakeries for cannoli. That would be Mike’s, Modern, Bova’s, and Maria’s. But which makes the ultimate version? If you’re going to wait in line for upward of 20 minutes, you want the best, don’t you?

Who makes the best cannoli in Boston? Mike’s? Modern Pastry? Bova’s? Maria’s?
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

First, let’s ratchet down your anxiety with this simple fact: All the cannoli in the North End are good. There really aren’t any clunkers, unless they’re pre-filled and allowed to sit in a case so long that the shells get soggy. And that’s your first tip: The more exotic the flavor (pecan caramel and tiramisu, anyone?), the more elaborate the sprinkles and drizzles, the more likely it was filled in advance — which is why we always go with the classic plain ricotta, filled to order.

But even if you roll the dice on that Nutella cannoli, chances are it’ll be pretty good. Or so says one customer at Bova’s. “My grandfather would kill me if he saw me ordering this,” he says conspiratorially. “Nutella cannoli! But that’s OK. He’s not looking, and it’s so good.”

Where to Find the Best Cannoli in Boston

Bova’s Bakery

Located one block behind the chaos of Hanover Street, Bova’s is rarely very crowded, and it’s open later than the other bakeries. It offers the whole array of Italian cookies and pastries, plus breads and takeaway meals like eggplant Parmesan, arancini, and calzones, so Bova’s is a favorite with locals looking for a quick dinner without the lines.

Tucked away on the corner of Salem and Prince streets, Bova’s is a hidden gem with much shorter lines than Mike’s and Modern.
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Mike’s Pastry

Mike’s Pastry is the granddaddy of North End bakeries. It has the largest storefront and tends to attract the longest lines. Its little white-and-blue boxes are the must-have accessory for most after-dinner strollers (many North End restaurants don’t serve dessert, which makes the bakery scene so vibrant).

Despite the long lines, the staffers at Mike’s keep a sense of humor (and keep things moving).
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

In addition to cookies and pastry, Mike’s offers gelato, making it a one-stop shop for family desserts.

The crowds descend on Mike’s on warm summer nights, especially if there’s an Italian feast and procession happening.
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry, across Hanover Street and half a block down from Mike’s, has the more charming setting. And in-the-know locals will tell you that Modern has an annex location right next door that often has no line, even when the main bakery has a queue out the door.

At the end of the day, we can’t deny the appeal of a Modern Pastry cannoli.
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Maria’s Pastry Shop [closed, September 2019]

Finally, there’s Maria’s on Cross Street. Owned and operated by Maria Merola, it has the most authentic old-school North End vibe, in part because Maria closes up shop at 7 p.m., preferring to avoid the after-dinner crowd altogether.

“They go to the restaurants and they have wine, and then they come here and they’re saying, ‘What’s this, what’s that?’” she says. “I have no more patience after 5.”

Note: Sadly, Maria’s Pastry Shop closed served its final cannoli in September 2019. Learn more.

Where to Find the Best Cannoli in Boston
Maria’s Pastry Shop
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Now that we’ve introduced the major players, let’s get down to business. We conducted side-by-side tastings of several cannoli from each North End bakery, and we now offer this ranking.

The contenders for the title of best cannoli in Boston.
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Where to Find the Best Cannoli in Boston: The North End Champs

Fourth place: Mike’s Pastry

We can’t say it enough: All North End cannoli are good. However, while Mike’s gets a nod for offering the biggest cannoli, the shells are a bit thicker than we’d like and the filling is a bit too sweet for our taste.

Third place: Bova’s Bakery

By far the prettiest of the lot, with their frilled piping, Bova’s cannoli are wonderfully creamy and less sweet than Mike’s. However, the filling was just a little less complex and interesting than that of the next finalist …

Second place: Modern Pastry

Now we’re leaving “very good” territory and getting into true cannoli excellence. Modern’s filling has a tangy richness reminiscent of cheesecake, but it’s still recognizably cannoli-esque. The shell is tender, and the portion is ample.

The Winner: Maria’s Pastry Shop

The hours may be less convenient, but the cannoli are superb, with the tenderest shells and the creamiest filling. And while they are smaller than the other contenders, they cost only $3, while the rest cost $4. Congratulations, Maria! You’ve won our hearts.

Maria Merola of Maria’s Pastry Shop, our top pick for the best cannoli in Boston.
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

What’s your pick for where to find the best cannoli in Boston? Let us know!

This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated. 

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