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An Italian food lover's guide to Chicago

An Italian food lover's guide to Chicago

Chicago is the right city for any lover of Italian cuisine. Its Italian heritage tells in the number and diversity of available restaurants ensure you have plenty of options to pick from. The cuisine varies from traditional Italian dishes to modern takes and recipes. So much choice can sometimes be confusing, especially for a first-time visitor. To help you with that, here is a list of where to find the best Italian food Chicago has to offer. 

Riccardo Trattoria

One of the most excellent spots for Italian food carries its heritage straight from Italy. Chef and owner of Ricardo Trattoria, Riccardo Michi hails from a restaurant founder of the Bice restaurant empire. His wife is also the sous chef, and to add to this intimate and homely Italian feel, the waiters speak Italian. The range of food from homemade pasta to the meat dishes and fantastic daily specials. The casual feel is complemented by the all-white table clothes making the diner suitable even for special occasions.

Favorite items to sample include orecchiette with sausage, trippa alla Fiorentina, and the memorable pappardelle with bolognese. You will have to make an early reservation, though, since it is usually flocking with diners.

Spiaggia 

Spiaggia has been around for over 30 years. And while it has been refurbished over the years, the gold standard of Italian dining has been maintained. It now has a relaxed atmosphere but still retains its position as the fanciest Italian restaurant in town, meaning you will need a heftier budget. Its range of Italian wine and beer, the top-notch service, and the Michelin-starred status and season variant five to eight-course meals means any expense is well deserved. It is an excellent location for celebrations, and the favorite dishes here are the risotto and gnocchi while the hand-pinched tortellini is also a great pick.

Osteria Langhe 

The Osteria Langhe is a small restaurant with a massive reputation on Logan Square. Its focus is the cuisine from Northern Italy, specifically from Piedmont. Intimacy is the most significant selling point here, making it an excellent choice for a night date. Preference and emphasis are on recipes going beyond your typical Italian dishes, which results in a menu with delicacies like prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin, plin ravioli, miniature agnolotti with cheese, a creamy panna cotta and beef tartare. The wine list is impeccable skillfully curated by Aldo, the owner. 

Nico Osteria 

Located on the ground floor of the Thompson Chicago Hotel is the Nico Osteria, an Italian Restaurant offering from Paul Kahan’s Hospitality. It is relatively new compared to its competition in the Italian food niche. Still, it makes up for the late entry with imaginative dishes, whether it is an early breakfast or a late-night winding down. Space is at a premium here, with the dining floor tightly packed. Still, there are cool options at the bar and the patio in the summer. The enticing menu contains gems like the whole roasted Branzino and generally the best mix of fresh Italian seafood around.

La Scarola 

If you are out for simplicity and a spot where you can bring friends and share large servings, then La Scarola is the place to be. So popular is it that even with a reservation you may be waiting for a while. Everything from the recipes, to the serving and ambiance, is old-school Italian dining. The frescoed dining walls are lined up with photos of the family owners with celebrities, giving it a unique feel. The tasty servings of garlicky pastas, beans, and escarole and veal chops, as well as penne alla vodka, compliments well with the raucous atmosphere. It is the ideal place for family outings and catching up with friends. 

Coco Pazzo

Coco Pazzo is the best spot for business or social needs that require an extra touch of sophistication. The establishment has been around since the 90s, and the experience shows in the composition of its menu and its service. Space is ample in the dining room, and the Tuscany roots are still evident in its servings. The wine list is excellent, and its potato gnocchettti and seafood dish are some outstanding selections. However, it is with the beet dishes that Coco Pazzo truly shines. Do not miss the opportunity to try out the famed Bistecca from Florence.

Monteverde

Top Chef alumnus, Sarah Grueneberg, owns Monteverde. Her skills earned her the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region in 2017. 

She has truly mastered the art of house-made pastas with delicacies such as the Tortelli di Zucca. Her modern take on regional Italian cuisine is a total delight, especially the ragu alla Napoletana, which comes filled with sausage, pork shank, fusilli, and meatballs. The atmosphere is immersive and relaxing, making this place one for any occasion, with friends or family as well as a romantic outing.

Formento’s 

Formento’s is a B Hospitality Co. restaurant with the best servings of Italian-American classic dishes. Its interior oozes comfort with a sporty look thanks to the large leather booths and white tablecloths, making perfect for the social occasions. You can eat here from brunch to dinner enjoying sweet dishes like bucatini carbonara, to bone-in veal parmesan and wood-grilled octopus. The lemon-ricotta pancakes make the best part of brunch you will taste anywhere. 

Sapori Trattoria

This is a spot for all occasions thanks to its appealing homey and warm dining room and the tasty pastas that most locals keep coming back out of habit. The simplicity of the dishes like the house-made spaghetti with veal meatballs or the lobster-stuffed ravioli and the surprise of house specialties like the osso buco, which is braised for six hours keeps the regulars glued here. For a more romantic vibe, Tuesday nights are the best to visit Sapori Trattoria, where guests get serenaded by live jazz musicians. 

These nine outlets are at the top of any list of Italian food lover in Chicago. Each manages to offer a distinct taste and atmosphere among the plentiful options available in the city while still meeting the expected standards of Italian quality. Whether you are looking for a romantic night, a business occasion or celebrating with your friends, you can easily find more than one option from the above list. Feel adventurous and try all of them out to settle on your favorite. 

If you are not in the mood for Italian or want to try something different, read some of our other blog posts on the best sushi bars or the best new restaurants in Chicago

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