'Buon Appetito': Chicago's Top 10 Mouth-Watering Italian Restaurants
By Megy Karydes
Chicago Local Expert
Coming up with Chicago’s Top 10 Italian restaurants is almost setting yourself up for failure because it’s one of those lists that will inevitably make someone angry because you didn’t include their favorite. There are so many really good Italian restaurants in the city, from fine dining to affordable and family-friendly. Consider this list as your starting point.
Spiaggia is a place to see and be seen along the Magnificent Mile and one of the city's top restaurants. If Spiaggia is the super-luxe of Italian in Chicago, then RoSal’s in Little Italy is its heart and soul. A cozy interior, welcoming owner who is almost always there to greet his guests and traditional menu that never disappoints make this one of the city’s hidden gems.
Francesca’s on Taylor and Tuscany are other great Little Italy standbys.
Coco Pazzo’s chefs cover everything from traditional, authentic Italian to regional cuisine to modern fine dining. Even the simplest dishes here are made with such fresh flavors that make them some of the richest meals on the menu. Piccolo Sogno offers more contemporary takes on Italian cuisine, such as Fontina-stuffed squash blossoms and succulent suckling pig roasted to perfection.
Heading north, check out Caro Mio and bring your own bottle of wine. Angelina’s serves up southern Italian delicacies and a great place for brunch on the weekends. RoseAngelis in Lincoln Park offers numerous weekly specials that are worthy of a trip. And for an old-school spot, no restaurant beats Sabatino’s.
10 Caro Mio Italian Restaurant
From the warm colors and framed art on the wall, the impeccable service and the outstanding selection of food that will make you want to wish you ordered more of just so you can take some home with you, Caro Mio doesn't disappoint. Ever. It's always pretty spot on and that's part of the reason it's become a favorite of many locals as well as people who make it a destination for celebrations. A party room can accommodate up to 85 guests. The fact that it's BYOB makes it easy to bring along your favorite bottle of wine. And, beginning January 2015, it will begin take-out service. ((773) 275-5000)
After a fire destroyed the restaurant, it rebuilt and, thankfully, it hasn't lost its charm. The affable owner is almost always there to greet his guests every night, often coming by your table to ask how if you enjoyed your meal. The tiny storefront is easy to miss along busy Taylor Street but this Little Italy standby enjoys a steady clientele of diners because it never disappoints. Family photos line the walls and the aromas coming from the kitchen make you feel at home. If you're on a paleo diet, don't bother coming here as the bread and olive oil on the table alone will be tough to avoid. Start with their signature fried ravioli and be sure to leave room for dessert. (3122432357)
8 Rose Angelis
Rose Angelis is located in an assuming location in Lincoln Park. It's not quite as ostentatious as some of the higher end Italian eateries, but enter in and you'll feel right at home. They have a menu of special dishes that change each week which include pizza, soup, salad, manicotti and pasta. Desserts are made daily in house. Try the Mezzalune al Burro: spinach pasta half moons stuffed with ricotta and pesto served in a seasoned browned butter sauce with sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Complete your meal with a bottle from their reserve wine list, and you've got yourself a complete Italian evening. (773-296-0081)
7 Angelina Ristorante
Angelina's is a neighborhood favorite. They are known for their fresh pasta, intimate interior and friendly staff. One of their most popular meals is weekend brunch. Choose from one of the six delicious options on their champagne brunch menu and you'll get unlimited champagne, mimosas, kir royales, or bellinis for just $21. Their Lasagna di Verdura is a crowd pleaser: roasted tomato, mushroom, squash and spinach between layered fresh pasta, bubbling with baked cheese. Come in on any Monday night and enjoy a bottle of wine for just half of the regular price. If you come in with a Lakeview local on a Wednesday, you get 20% off of your bill. (773-935-5933)
Sabatino's is very much old-school. It's located on a busy street across from a car dealership. This is definitely not the kind of place you stumble upon - it's a destination and many people make the trek because it's that good. Whether coming with a huge group or a romantic dinner, the restaurant can accommodate. Roving musicians are on hand to entertain nightly and a live piano player is featured on weekends. The setting is intimate and the menu offers all your favorite Italian specialties: chicken parmesan, homemade cheese ravioli, savory veal piccata and fresh red snapper. An outdoor patio enclosed in brick walls and flowers in large flower pots make it feel like your hundreds of miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. (773-283-8331)
5 Francesca's on Taylor
This neighborhood charmer, located in Little Italy, earns high marks for its traditional trattoria atmosphere, friendly service and Northern Italian and Tuscan-inspired fare. Start off with an appetizer of mussels in spicy tomato sauce before moving on to heartier dishes, like pollo limone, rigatoni melanzane with roasted eggplant and mozzarella and salmone pagliacci with broccoli, eggplant, garlic and white wine. Portions tend to be large so keep that in mind when ordering. Street parking (mostly metered) can be found but if you're not lucky, valet is an option. While many diners return for their favorites, the menu is constantly changing to keep the options fresh. (312-829-2828)
4 Piccolo Sogno
Entering Piccolo Sogno, you'll see a gorgeous marble bar, terrazzo floors and glowing blue walls. Aside from the beautiful interior, the contemporary Italian menu is full of incredible dishes like carpaccio, fontina-stuffed squash blossoms and delicious wood-fired pizzas. Pastas like meaty lasagna and entrees like roasted suckling pig will have you asking for more. A more affordable, off-the-beaten-path option than some of the downtown Italian eateries, Piccolo Sogno also has one of the best outdoor dining areas in the city (if not the country)--an ivy-fringed patio perfect on a warm summer evening. It's an ideal spot to enjoy a bottle of one of their excellent wines. (3124210077)
3 Coco Pazzo
Walk into the restaurant off noisy Hubbard and you really do feel a sense of calm when you enter Coco Pazzo. The restaurant focuses on hearty Tuscan cuisine and the dining room decor is spacious, airy and upscale but still comfortable. The food is full of assertive flavors, as evidenced by dishes like pappardelle with rabbit, roast pancetta-rolled pork loin, and herb-crusted half rack of lamb with artichokes and fried polenta. Any of the grilled game dishes is sure to please. The most popular dessert is cioccolato fondente, a chocolate volcano ready to erupt as soon as your fork hits it. (312-836-0900)
For Northern Italian cuisine, Tuscany offers an upscale option in the Little Italy section of town. This cozy eatery, which tends to get a little cramped at times, is as popular with youthful hipsters as it is with downtown suits. During those "brisk" Chicago winters, their wood-burned gourmet pizzas are positively heaven-sent. Not just for locals, Tuscany has treated such "tourists" as former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. Traditional pasta dishes are also available. Be careful with the warm garlic clove brought out with the bread - it's delicious and potent. Valet parking is available. Dinner is available every night but the restaurant not open for lunch on weekends. (312-829-1990)
For luxurious, upscale Italian dining, Spiaggia is a top pick. This James Beard-awarded restaurant has played host to celebrities including President Obama and his wife, to Julia Roberts and Mick Jagger. One of the town's most romantic dining rooms, it features sparkling platinum-and-white decor, sculpted steel light fixtures, and fantastic Lake Michigan views. The food is simplicity at its best, crafted with the finest aged cheeses, the freshest produce, and wonderful pastas. Delicious dishes include roasted scallops with Parmigiano Reggiano, tenderloin of rabbit, and an unforgettable citrus sea bass. Perfect wines, impeccable service, and irresistible desserts make this restaurant a winner in every category. (312-280-2750)
About Megy Karydes
Megy Karydes has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and most of her life in Chicago. While she’s traveled extensively internationally, visiting each of the 50 states is on her bucket list. An adventure seeker, she’s game for anything from mixed martial arts training to competing in obstacle course races. A self-proclaimed coffee snob and “greenie” who loves farmer-grown food and locally-grown craft beers & wine. She’s yet to find an outdoor beer garden she doesn’t like. Mixing writing and food/drink is her specialty, especially when it involves travel. Visit her musings on her insatiable appetite for life at www.WanderingTastes.com or www.KarydesConsulting.com.
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