Six classic red-sauce joints
Bruna’s Ristorante This old-school favorite opened its doors in the Heart of Italy neighborhood in 1933, which almost explains the faded travel posters and weary saloon decor. But the kitchen is far from tired, going beyond typical pastas and parmigianas to specialize in rustic dishes from Siena, owner Luciano Silvestri’s boyhood home. Tucked between the chicken Vesuvio and the stuffed shells are a rich ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms and a spirited rendition of penne alla puttanesca. Surprisingly, a long list of pricey Tuscan wines contains some interesting finds. 2424 S Oakley Ave (773-254-5550). El: Pink to Western. Bus: 21, 49, X49, 60. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $18.
Caponies Trattoria Irony doesn’t exist at this red-sauce joint, so take a cue from the name and the Sopranos mobile dangling over the cash register and behave yourself. While it might not be doing anything new, its brand of Italian classics is impeccably executed. Thin-crust Margherita pizzas shimmer with olive oil and explode with the flavors of basil, garlic and fresh mozzarella; enormous portions of chicken Parmesan are greaseless and immersed in a chunky, fresh tomato sauce; and the housemade tiramisu is so boozy you may forget you’re in the States. 3350 N Harlem Ave (773-804-9024). Bus: 77, 90, 152. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $12.
Club Lago If you thought a chimney crashing through the ceiling and obliterating the kitchen below could keep Club Lago down, then you have obviously never been to Club Lago. Recovery was never in question for the feisty, 57-year-old pasta joint. Despite new paint and new beer taps, the place looks exactly the same and is even staffed by the same servers (save the lone new girl), so it’s easy to regress to old habits: massive portions of lasagna, soft roast beef on white bread, watery carafes of Chianti and—this is crucial—some pasta with Lago’s meat sauce. 331 W Superior St (312-951-2849). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Chicago. Bus: 66. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $11.
Club Lucky This old-school, family-style Italian joint has been in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years now. It has kept residents coming back with a menu of dependable classics such as chicken Vesuvio and housemade lasagna served in a space that looks like a transported cocktail lounge from the ’50s—making it a good late-night stop for signature martinis and Sinatra standards. 1824 W Wabansia Ave (773-227-2300). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Lunch (Mon–Sat), brunch (Sun), dinner. Average main course: $16.
Natalino’s It’s hard to say if the bada-bing vibe here is an act or not, but it doesn’t really matter—either way, Natalino’s does the Italian-American thing pretty well. The menu has plenty of pastas and chops, but also a few surprises: A sweet-and-bitter radicchio and prosciutto app and rich, lobster-stuffed tortellaccci al aragosta both stand out. For dessert, there’s “broken” cannoli, a pile of sweet mascarpone dotted with broken cannoli shells to scoop it all up. Nobody could possibly finish the thing, but you’re not expected to—like everything here, it’s all about keeping up appearances. 1523 W Chicago Ave at Armour St (312-997-3700). El: Blue to Chicago. Bus: 9, 56, 66. Dinner. Average main course: $20.
Sabatino’s A dark and cozy date-friendly ambiance, seasoned servers and old-school Italian dishes (including a killer-value steak)—what’s not to like about this place? Couples should snag a booth, the perfect spot for sipping a well-priced bottle of Chianti and kicking the night off with the signature cheesy garlic bread. Shrimp De Jonghe is fresh (and garlicky as hell), ricotta-filled manicotti and gnocchi in meat sauce won’t disappoint, and the extrathick New York strip is seasoned only with salt and pepper before hitting the grill for a spot-on medium rare. 4441 W Irving Park Rd (773-283-8331). El: Blue to Irving Park. Bus: 53, 54A, X54, 80, X80. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $14.