Six spots for housemade pastas
Donatella Mediterranean Bistro It’s easy to fall into a European reverie at Donatella Majore and Paolo di Costanzo’s follow-up to the late La Cucina di Donatella. Start with the excellent octopus salad, warm tentacles mingling with briny capers and plump olives, and Donatella’s famous lasagna, made with impeccably tender housemade noodles. For dessert, get the Vulcan cake: a chocolate Bundt cake filled with gelato and hot fudge and topped with orange liquor.(Don’t worry, it’s not technically a lava cake, so you’re in the clear.) 1512 Sherman Ave, Evanston (847-328-7720). El: Purple to Davis. Bus: 205, Pace 208, Pace 250. Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $20.
Merlo La Trattoria This outpost of the Merlo mini empire is decidedly downscale, with mismatched plates, wooden tables topped with rustic runners and a menu of trattoria staples, many hailing from the family’s hometown of Bologna. Tender, chilled rabbit meat on crostini and yellow fin house-cured in olive oil are a good start, and housemade pastas are simple yet tasty. The accolades belong to the braised chicken legs in a forest’s worth of ’shrooms and the tremendous desserts, including a rice-pudding cake studded with candied citrus and Amaretti cookies. 1967 N Halsted St (312-951-8200). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Armitage. Bus: 8, 73. Dinner. Average main course: $16.
The Pasta Shoppe & Café Sitting on this café’s brick patio isn’t so different from hanging out on an Italian piazza, but if you need a little more inspiration, try ordering the mini arancini—tiny, cheesy rice balls that pair exceptionally well with a glass of Prosecco. Because the pastas here are all housemade, it’s best to let them shine by opting for a simple sauce: Tomato and basil spaghetti pairs well with the straightforward marinara; for a spicier option, try the plump ravioli with fiery arrabiata. Portions are generous, so you’ll probably have some to take home; but if you clean your plate, you can grab more from the attached pasta shop. 116 N Oak Park Ave, Oak Park (708-763-0600). Bus: Pace 311 to Ontario. Metra: Union Pacific W to Oak Park. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Sapori Trattoria As Lincoln Park’s go-to Italian joint for all occasions—witness the awkward Internet date in one corner, the anniversary celebration in another, and the 50th birthday party in yet another—it’s easy to get the impression that people are coming here out of habit. But in fact, the throngs of people are attracted to the warm, homey room and the housemade pastas like spaghetti with veal meatballs and fennel-flecked Italian sausage, or sumptuous gnocchi paired with a lively pesto sauce. They’re so tasty you’ll realize that the locals’ habit is for good reason. 2701 N Halsted St (773-832-9999). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Diversey. Bus: 8, 22, 76. Dinner. Average main course: $17.
Socca If you could see the classy, airy space this Mediterranean restaurant takes up, you’d never guess it used to be the infamous pick-up joint Buddies. The new incarnation is named for the chickpea crêpe that hails from Provence, a dish always present on the menu. But we like to start with the loaded antipasto board, move on to housemade pastas and end with rich comforts like beef short ribs. Seasonal influences appear mostly as starters and sides for entrées (green garlic and ramps, for instance). And crispy, paper-thin “pizzettes” (rectangular pizzas) are served. 3301 N Clark St (773-248-1155). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Belmont. Bus: 8, 22, 77. Dinner. Average main course: $18.
Terragusto on Addison Chef-owner Theo Gilbert is a stickler for buzz words like seasonal, local and organic, but he’s not all talk. In fact, ingredient availability dictates the menu so much that by the time we report on our latest cold-weather eats at this charming, brick-walled neighborhood spot, they may not be around. Get in quick for capellacci di zucca, or “pope’s hats,” with squashes and parmigiano in a sage-brown butter sauce or the whole grain pappardelle with Paulina Market sausage, roasted peppers and onions. The tiny kitchen gets hit hard on busy nights so, for the wait, start with tortellini in brodo, a white truffle-scented broth. 1851 W Addison St (773-248-2777). El: Brown to Addison. Bus: 11, 50, 152. Dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $16.