Chicago’s vibrant Italian restaurant scene offers excellent versions of any regional cuisine you’re looking for, from Tuscan to Roman to Piedmontese. But this is also a city where a nice meal out has long meant Italian, so there’s a homegrown style and repertoire. It’s no wonder that some of Chicago’s longest-lived and best-loved restaurants are Italian. Here are some of the best Italian spots in Chicago, based on the spots our diners order most.
If you want a taste of pure Chicago-style Italian American comfort food, then this River North restaurant has what you’re looking for. Try the city’s most famous addition to the canon: Chicken Vesuvio, served with roasted potato wedges and peas, all bathed in an herbaceous garlic sauce. Then move on to the centerpiece-worthy whole roasted artichoke stuffed with crispy Parmesan breadcrumbs, a kitchen-sink Scoozi chopped salad, and the totally insane house specialty of burrata and Bolognese lasagna. This is how Chicago does Italian.
This Lincoln Park spot serves elevated versions of the kind of cozy Italian fare you crave on a cold night: spaghetti Barese with veal meatballs and Italian sausage, bucatini carbonara made with both pancetta and smoked bacon, and a ball of creamy burrata cheese served with a full antipasto board of accompaniments. If you’re feeling fancy, try the whipped ricotta toast, accented with smoked honey and fennel pollen. For something homey, the gooey, cheesy lasagna has your name on it.
Housemade pastas, hand-stretched brick-oven pizzas, and other comforting dishes have made this Oak Brook restaurant a perennial favorite in the western suburbs. The house-specialty chicken meatballs, bathed in a spicy arrabbiata sauce and topped with fresh basil, are ample and tender. Ricotta gnocchi made in-house come in your choice of four preparations: with meat sauce, tomato-basil sauce, herb-roasted mushrooms, and a rotating offering like truffle-burrata. And make sure to plan around the daily specials, such as shrimp diavolo and Italian pot roast.
Like other restaurants in the Hogsalt portfolio (Au Cheval, Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf), Ciccio Mio combines equal parts swagger and stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods. Start with the premium burrata — gooey deliciousness you didn’t know you needed in your life. Then move on to heartier dishes: Try the lasagna bolognese rotolo and the truffle bucatini; add meatballs to any pasta because why not? There is also a splendid roast half chicken and some nice wines by the bottle.
Open since 2013, Siena Tavern was loosely inspired by a trip its owners (including Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani) took to Tuscany. Viviani’s pastas headline the menu, and they don’t skimp on luxury. Favorites include tender gnocchi in a truffle sauce with fried sage and crispy pancetta, and squid ink linguine topped with a grilled lobster tail. Salads can be accessorized any which way: The kale Caesar salad with oven-dried tomatoes becomes a meal with added prosciutto, octopus, or lobster tail. Finish with tiramisu and a bottle of wine for good measure.
Tony Priolo’s West Loop restaurant may have one of Chicago’s favorite patios, but it has even better pastas. Regulars might never stray from their usual orders, but we’re happy to feast on pappardelle with spiced wild boar ragù one time and move on to the tortelli di zucca (sweet squash ravioli made with amaretto cookies, brown butter, and sage) the next. For a hearty meal, try the rosticciana — short ribs braised in red wine over squash puree with sautéed greens.
This Western Springs trattoria specializes in rustic Italian cooking, such as mascarpone polenta with a ragù of the day, a hearty portion of cacio e pepe pasta, and Ligurian-style focaccia di recco served with soft cheese and honeycomb. Davanti also makes terrific thin-crust pizzas and, as regulars have discovered, one of the best gourmet burgers in the western suburbs. Bacon jam, roasted tomatoes, cheese curds, and roasted garlic aioli make it a standout.
The best Italian restaurants bottle an era, and for this Bucktown favorite we’re talking the 1990s, when the owners took over an old watering hole. Think entrées portioned for two: sturdy fresh pastas like fettuccine drenched in creamy Alfredo, eggplant Parmesan two inches high with a side of penne, bruschetta heaped with diced tomatoes, and fried calamari served with housemade spicy cocktail sauce. All that’s left to do is add a warm loaf of Famous Club Lucky Bread and the kind of anchovy-flecked Caesar salad that makes you remember why it’s a classic.
Many visitors plan their trips to Chicago around reservations at this West Loop sensation, which earned chef Sarah Grueneberg a James Beard Award. Lucky us; her wonderful pastas and stuzzichini (appetizers) are just a click away. Her giant soppressata meatball and delicate little gnocchetti con pesto are the dishes that have earned Monteverde legendary status, but don’t pass up her revelatory spaghetti with pomodoro sauce and a lively salad inspired by her grandmother. Pantry items, like signature seasoning blends, are available for those who want to try their hand at cooking a Monteverde dish at home.
This centrally located Italian spot from restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You offers more than simple carryout. Here, you can order pantry staples like bottles of olive oil and loaves of bread. You can opt for family meals both inexpensive and indulgent, like pizza, pasta, and gelato for two or four. You can grab a bottle of wine off the list or order generous side dishes of whipped potatoes and sautéed spinach to fill out a dinner at home. The thin-crust pizzas, cut tavern-style, are excellent, as are the pastas.
Here’s a suburban treasure: a St. Charles pizzeria where the classic pies are so good that they draw fans from all around. The house-special Trulli pizza is a flavor bomb made with capers, anchovies, and Gaeta olives. For a bit of a splurge, try the zuppa de pesce, a traditional Puglian seafood stew, featuring a rich tomato broth filled with shrimp, mussels, clams, and fish.
Roman-style pastas are the calling card at this Logan Square eatery, but loyalists have learned that the chicken al mattone, with the tender chicken roasted under a brick in the restaurant’s wood-fire oven, is the real star. Order all the vegetable sides the menu has to offer, and share the wild mushroom triangoli with brown butter and rosemary-roasted hazelnuts to start.
Veteran chef Nicolas Biscaglio helmed many of Chicago’s most noteworthy Italian restaurants before landing at this West Loop favorite. While many fans enjoy it before a game or show at United Center, its central location makes it one of the best choices for delivery if you’re hankering for some serious old-school Italian food. Think veal marsala, chicken Milanese, linguine with clams, and the beguilingly named Eight Finger Cavatelli in tomato-basil sauce.
This Logan Square spot specializes in Piedmontese fare made from locally sourced ingredients. You’ll never forget your first time eating their plin — tiny, hand-pinched ravioli stuffed with extra-creamy La Tur cheese. Wowza. Also well worth ordering are the prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin with creamy polenta, the vegetarian crespella (crêpes), and the house noodles with meat sauce.
Boka Restaurant Group’s bodacious West Loop eatery serves the most eye-poppingly huge chicken Parmesan with fire-roasted tomato sauce — and it’s so good you might never even try the fine pizzas or the wild mushroom lasagna. (That would be a mistake!) The kale Caesar salad with sourdough croutons and black pepper–Parmesan dressing puts most other kale salads to shame, and you’d be hard-pressed to think of a tastier app than the arancini filled with melty cheese and served with ’nduja aioli. Simply put, the food here has a lot of swagger.
Alla Vita photo credit: Boka Restaurant Group
You can’t have a list of Chicago Italian restaurants and not mention this nearly 100-year-old classic. You’ll want to cozy up with a meatball or sausage Parmigiana sandwich capped with bubbly mozzarella, an order of garlic bread, some mozzarella sticks, and all the other dishes you’ve loved since you were a kid. If your tastes skew more adult, the restaurant makes a mean Chicken Vesuvio, a half chicken bathed in an herby, garlicky white wine sauce.
Think of this swanky-looking West Loop restaurant as a more contemporary version of Gene & Georgetti: It takes the best parts of an Italian supper club and a steakhouse, combining them to appetizing effect. We’re partial to the pastas, such as the tubular canestri with pork neck gravy and the squid ink orecchiette with rock shrimp, hot chiles, and fresh mint. But the steaks, each served with a signature red wine sauce, are quite fine too.
Sure, this River North institution is one of Chicago’s oldest steakhouses. But let’s not forget that it was founded by Gene Michelotti and Alfredo “Georgetti” Federighi, and it has always been just as much an Italian restaurant. How easy it is to make a meal of the antipasti, such as grilled polenta with Italian porcini mushrooms, minestrone soup, sausage and peppers, and calamari fritti with housemade marinara. But if you want something more substantial, the Chicken alla Joe — a roasted half bird with pepperoncini and sweet peppers — will hit the spot.
Packed, loud, and as scene-y as it gets in Bucktown, this restaurant draws crowds who order a bunch of plates and share them, family-style. The Bubbling Shrimp, with its soppable smoked tomato–ginger sauce; the fire-baked focaccia with honeyed ricotta and truffles; and the meatballs in a zingy Sunday sauce are all new classics. Add in an order of cavatelli Bolognese and a crisp-crusted pizza, and you’ve got the Etta party at home.
For 16 years, this Evanston mainstay has been turning out a steady stream of thin-crust pizzas, classic pastas, and shareable salads. D.O.C. is the certificate of authenticity that the Italian government bestows on wine and other agricultural products, which should give you some idea of just how much this kitchen looks to the motherland for inspiration. Try the gorgeous pizza with potatoes and rosemary, the pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, and the refreshing celery and apple salad with Parmigiano and radicchio.