The City of Boston is famous for its many Italian restaurants that line the streets of the North End. But Bocca Bella Cafe & Bistro, situated on a cozy corner in Auburndale, is a small but homey Italian restaurant that gives even the best of the area some competition.
For almost 12 years, the family-owned spot has served up classic Italian dishes such as cacio e pepe, chicken parmesan, and veal marsala to Newton residents, making it a favorite spot for locals in the area.
For Newton residents Greg Gailius, BC ’77, and Loretta Gailius, stopping by Bocca Bella is a part of their weekly routine.
The couple said they have been coming to the restaurant since it first opened and often come two or three times a week. Over the years, the Gailiuses said that they have made a lot of friends with Bocca Bella’s other regulars, as well as the owners of the restaurant.
“Now the owner and his wife are part of our family,” Loretta Gailius said.
Family is an integral part of Bocca Bella, according to Anthony Vega, its owner.
A native New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots, Vega left his job running a nightclub in Brooklyn, N.Y. to start Bocca Bella after deciding that he could run a restaurant on his own, he said. Vega’s father-in-law, Mario Boccabella, a native of Abruzzo, Italy, and Vega’s wife also work at the restaurant. Boccabella is both the chef and namesake of the restaurant.
The sense of family is immediately present when you walk into the restaurant.
Customers step into what feels like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen when they walk into Bocca Bella. The restaurant’s red brick walls and wooden bar create an intimate and inviting atmosphere. String lights hang from the outside awning onto the outdoor dining area, giving the restaurant a whimsical feeling. The scents of fresh pasta cooking and chicken frying overwhelm the senses.
Bocca Bella flavorful dishes elevate the warm and comfortable feeling of the restaurant. Bocca Bella is open for both lunch and dinner and is priced affordably with all entrees under $30.
A selection of Italian appetizers, including toasted ravioli, provide the perfect precursor to any meal. The warm, cheesy, breaded ravioli served with a side of marinara sauce invokes the classic crunchy and cheesy flavor combo of the dish, bringing a piece of Italy to Newton.
Both the chicken parmesan and ravioli alla vodka rivaled those of the North End. The restaurant sized the chicken parmesan generously with three pieces of chicken—enough to take home to enjoy the next day. Gooey mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce are slathered on top of the chicken. The marinara sauce is both sweet and acidic, complementing the salty, juicy chicken.
Although this dish is typically served with penne, the ravioli alla vodka is elevated by the contrast between the soft ravioli and creamy, pink vodka sauce which transforms this classic dish into something new and more sophisticated.
Though desserts are not listed on the menu, Bocca Bella also offers several different types of desserts, all of which are homemade. Customers can peruse the various desserts in a glass display case and deliberate over which treats might satisfy their sweet tooth or ask the owners for recommendations.
Bocca Bella serves a triple chocolate mousse, a limoncello mascarpone cake, and tiramisu. For chocolate lovers, the luscious chocolate mousse is divine, with layers of dark, milk, and white chocolate that melt in your mouth.
For those who enjoy fruit-filled desserts, the limoncello mascarpone cake’s light, whipped filling layered between fluffy layers is sweet but maintains the slightly sour, lemony flavor of the limoncello liqueur.
The tiramisu rivaled those in Italy. Some tiramisu lacks a bold enough coffee flavor, but Bocca Bella’s has a strong coffee flavor that does not overpower the mascarpone or chocolate.
Aside from the standard dishes that remain consistent on Bocca Bella’s menu, Vega said that a few dishes on the menu change nightly.
“If you come to us enough times, they kind of rotate, … but for the most part, we do try to do as best we can to change [the menu], especially seasonally,” Vega said.
Auburndale residents Sian and John Hastewell, who are originally from the United Kingdom and moved to Massachusetts 20 years ago, were first drawn to Bocca Bella because it is within walking distance of their home. They said that they often drop in two times a week to grab a drink and a dessert or to try one of the seasonal dishes.
“What we actually like is the variety,” John Hastewell said. “It’s different. The menu changes. You can come here and get a different meal every time, so it’s great.”
While the tasty food and welcoming atmosphere are reason enough to come back to Bocca Bella, the service and staff have regulars spending their nights at the restaurant.
“This is the Cheers of Auburndale,” Vega said. “Everyone knows everyone on a Friday or Saturday night. We do get people from all over the place, but for the weekdays, everyone knows each other.”
Vega also said that his connection with his customers makes them want to come back to Bocca Bella over and over again. Over the years, Vega has gotten to know many of his regulars on a personal level and said that he even invited a few of them to his wedding.
“You got to make yourself feel like the rest of them,” Vega said. “Being a mom-and-pop shop, you know people, you know your customers. A few of my customers actually got invited to my wedding—that’s how close they are.”
Vega said community is at the heart of Bocca Bella, and that sense of community sets it apart from other corporate restaurants.
“Community … they are the backbone of this restaurant,” Vega said. “Without the community, Bocca Bella wouldn’t be here, especially after the last two years. So in that sense, I always give back, whether it be for a PTO fundraiser, whatever, whichever school comes in here, whether it be a college, elementary school, high school, Bocca Bella is always giving. I think that every business should do the same.”
Bocca Bella is open at 442 Lexington Street Monday-Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.