Chicago Italian restaurants have perfected the art of Italian cuisine, from strictly old-fashioned to inventive and contemporary. Dig into a heaping mound of meatballs over linguine marinara, just like Grandma used to make, or partake in something a little more sophisticated, like a duck breast glazed with asfodelo honey, served with rapini and creamy yellow polenta. Looking for the best Italian restaurants in Chicago? Read on!
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods where new racial identities are formed while Old World identities are passed down, usually through the universal cultural identifier: food. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the best Italian restaurants in Chicago.
Upscale Chicago Italian Restaurants
If you don't mind splurging, some of the higher-end Chicago Italian restaurants are well worth the expense. Any exploration of Italian cuisine in Chicago must begin Spiaggia, Oak Street's culinary behemoth overlooking Lake Michigan, and one of the top Italian restaurants in Chicago. In 2006, the Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel named Spiaggia as the only four-star Chicago Italian restaurant.
Executive chef Tony Mantuano and his team exhibit a deft touch when it comes to presenting complex Italian cuisine while still allowing the inherent flavors of superior ingredients to come through plainly on the palate.
Another upscale choice is Coco Pazzo, a well-regarded purveyor of Italian cuisine in River North. Freshness is a guarantee at this Chicago Italian restaurant: every dish features only the highest quality and most flavorful ingredients. They hand-make their pasta and bread each day and combine classic techniques with modern touches in their well-rounded menu of Tuscan delights.
Classic Chicago Italian Restaurants
No list of the top Italian retaurants in Chicago would be complete without mentioning the classics. Executive chef Federico Comacchio, of Milan, serves consistent, masterfully prepared steaks and seafood at Phil Stefani's 437 Rush, set just off Chicago's Mag Mile. The pastas here each stand out in their own right, especially Comacchio's risotto. Stop by anytime; open for lunch and dinner, or sample the varied and customizable bar menu. Enjoy your experience here, then consider other Phil Stefani's Signature Restaurants. Various celebs definitely filter through 437 Rush, so keep your paparazzi-like eyes open.
Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood is a not-to-be-missed destination. When visiting during the summer months, make sure to visit Mario's Italian lemonade stand (at 1068 W. Taylor St.). Afterward, venture further down Taylor Street and settle in at RoSal's Cucina for a true taste of southern Italian cooking in a welcoming and cozy atmosphere.
Baseball fan or not, any trip to Chicago is incomplete without a stop at Harry Caray's Restaurant, a classic Chicago Italian restaurant and steakhouse, all in one. In addition to a critically-acclaimed wine list, they serve steaks and chops alongside classic Italian cuisine, surrounded by mahogany paneling and plenty o' paraphernalia. Harry Caray's is the perfect place to soak up Chicago history and do some celebrity watching.
Tucked away from the hustle of the Magnificent Mile is Volare Ristorante. A local favorite, Volare serves up life-changing gnocchi along with signature dishes like chicken Vesuvio, grilled salmon with lemon, capers and white wine sauce, and broiled whitefish.
If you're looking for a classic Chicago Italian restaurant, head to the Gold Coast, where you'll find Mario's Gold Coast Ristorante. This neighborhood hideaway has become a local hangout with at-home warmth and a wine list worth reading. Their expansive menu of pizza, pasta, chicken, veal, and steak features appetizers like grilled calamari and their signature steak vesuvio.
Merlo on Maple offers traditional Bolognese-inspired cuisine and is housed in a charming restored Gold Coast townhouse. House-made pastas are a specialty, with choices like tortelloni with sage and butter and garganelli with house-made sausage and peas.
Another hidden gem, rusty sign over the door and all, is La Scarola. The traditional Italian cuisine served here includes eggplant Parmigiana and a Chicago Italian restaurant favorite, peppers and sausage.
Fusion Chicago Italian Restaurants
Each Chicago Italian restaurant offers up its own brand of Italian favorites, old and new. Italiasia is taking this to a whole new level with their Italian-Asian fusion, featuring menu items like veal osso buco, cooked with sake.
Italiasia is the perfect compromise, featuring regional classics like pasta bolognese or grilled chicken teriyaki. Looking to pair something with your Asian-Italian cuisine? They have a full bar of sakes (including an organic sake and a sampler), international wines, cognacs, scotches, and more. Check it out on the 15th floor in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza.
Chicago Italian Restaurants for Families
If you prefer piled-high plates of pasta at fair prices over elaborate fine dining, visit Maggiano's Little Italy. This chain of Chicago Italian restaurants features a massive menu of Italian staples, plus other crowd-pleasers like onion strings and crab cakes. The red sauce-heavy food here is consistent, as is the service, and nobody leaves hungry.
Three Chicago Italian Restaurants in One
At one of Chicago's oldest restaurants, The Italian Village, you can choose from three Chicago Italian restaurants. If you're craving traditional food in a cozy, small town atmosphere, we suggest you settle in at The Village.
If you're looking for a Chicago Italian restaurant where steak is king, sink into the wine cellar-inspired atmosphere at La Cantina. For a more contemporary Chicago Italian restaurant, head to Vivere, where you'll find an award-winning wine list and highlights of regional Italian cuisine. No matter where you choose, you'll do well to order a glass of wine with your meal (they're known for their extensive, on-premise wine cellar).