If you haven't had an Italian lemonade, then this stop is a must, particularly in the summer. The slushy, fruity drink comes in a variety of refreshing flavors, ranging from pina colada to chocolate, and this vendor has repeatedly been named the best in the city. The small stand offers friendly service from owners Dorothy and Mario DiPaolo, not to mention off-the-wall snacks like lupini beans, seeds and nuts and assorted candies. Expect a long line, especially on weekends, although the lines do move quickly. Don't be surprised if you're waiting in line with a celebrity or two. They love Mario's as much as the rest of us!
Spots to sample a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich abound, but no place holds a candle to the Little Italy original, which has been around since the late 30s. Steak spiced with garlic and oregano, grilled onions and peppers and a soggy loaf of white bread roll; this is what a sandwich is supposed to be! And it's also probably why napkins were invented. In addition to the signature sandwich, they also offer hotdogs and burgers. Nobody comes here for the decor, or if they're counting calories. But they'll leave with a happy full feeling, and the quintesential Chicago dining experience.
For a French restaurant to make it in Little Italy, with Italian restaurants dotting both sides of the street, you know it has to be good. Chez Joel offers diners a comfortable interior dining room as well as a lovely garden area for dining during warm weather. The restaurant's decor features warm yellow walls and colorful artwork. The menu offers daily specials as well as traditional French fare that excels in quality, taste, and presentation. Try the bouillabaisse, mussels (in a wonderful creamy sauce), the duck confit, one of its many salads or the traditional steak frites. The apple in the apple tarte dessert is soaked in brandy then baked on top of a mascarpone, in the dough and finished off with vanilla ice cream on top.
This cafeteria-style restaurant has a well-deserved reputation for putting out some of the area's best pizzas, breads and desserts. The menu includes appetizers, soups, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, pastas and desserts. Start with a Marie's Special salad which includes chunky hearts of romaine, red onions, fried prosciutto and blue cheese with their signature thick homemade vinaigrette. Continue with a stuffed pizza with names like "The Works" and "Beef Angelo" or a homemade pasta topped with savory Italian sausage or meatballs for times when only good old-fashioned Italian will do. Don't overlook the desserts. Order a slice of Italian chocolate sheet cake or try a chocolate-dipped cannoli. The place is pretty big and a garage door contraption opens up for al fresco dining during the warmer days but it gets crowded during lunch time so get in earlier during the weekdays.
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.
Don't be surprised if you happen to be dining next to Chicago Blackhawk legends or players like Bobby Hull, Duncan Keith or Jonathan Toews since they've all been to Tufano's where the Stanley Cup has also made an appearance. Located off-the-beaten path in a very residential neighborhood, those in the know love the casual dining establishment because it's somewhat hidden and consistent. The menu has a mix of pasta dishes and fish entrees. Try the homemade ravioli, the stuffed shells, or the seafood salad, most of which are served in large portions. Plus, the great prices cast a glowing halo on your entire visit.