How does a restaurant fly under the radar for nearly 60 years? I've driven past Sonny Noto's for decades, but knew no one who'd tried it: not my Eastie friends who live the next square over, nor my crew that frequents the neighborhood for its excellent budget-priced restaurants. Sonny's has a shallow online profile, too — a handful of amateur reviews and no professional ones I could unearth. Hanging around, I noticed that Boston police officers are frequent customers, a reliable indicator of a clean, fast, reasonable establishment. The ambiance is that of a big Italian-American sub shop: counter service, cafeteria trays, 62 seats at tables and booths. (An attached convenience store mainly serves as a Keno parlor.)
Subs are large, high-quality for the prices, and served on good rolls, like the well-laden Italian cold cuts ($5.25–$6.25) and veal ($7.65) in thin-pounded, lightly breaded fried cutlets with fine marinara and a lot of melted parmigiano. The Noto special ($7.95) is especially attractive and delicious: thin chicken cutlets, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, and slices of fresh, herb-dusted mozzarella. The kitchen also turns out big platters of pasta and "barbecue" (grilled meats), all fresher and tastier than the modest room might lead you to expect. Chicken picatta ($9.95) is exemplary: a lot of lightly breaded, sautéed chicken-breast chunks in a vibrant sauce of fresh lemon and garlic, studded with capers and sliced mushrooms atop a pile of linguine, plus a huge heel of buttered Italian bread. A big-enough-for-two plate of grilled steak tips, chicken, and a whole sweet Italian sausage ($15.95) includes vinegar peppers, an enormous iceberg-lettuce salad (for which decent fries or onion rings can be substituted), and bread. Those tips are terrific: cubes of flap meat bathed in a sweet marinade, well-charred yet still juicy.
Mornings find the kitchen turning out classic diner breakfasts, such as eggs, bacon, home fries, and toast ($5.75); stacks of plate-size pancakes ($4.50); and good filter coffee ($1.50). Other drink options include sodas, juices, and bottled water ($1.70) out of self-serve coolers. While Sonny Noto's hardly rates as destination dining, it's easy to see why locals have kept this family-run business busy since 1952, with its versatile three-meal service, big portions, and care in details like fresh mushrooms and to-order cooking. Judging from the steady, happy trade here, I'd say it actually hasn't been overlooked at all: folks who live or work nearby have known about it all along.
Sonny Noto's Restaurant, located at 22 Central Square, in East Boston, is open Monday–Saturday, 7 am–8 pm. Call 617.569.1993.