Best Italian restaurants in Chicago: Find pasta, pizza and more
From cozy neighborhood trattorias to fancy splurges, these are the best places to eat Italian food in Chicago.
Chicagoans are crazy about Italian food, whether it's a casual neighborhood restaurant, a classic red-sauce joint or a fine-dining spot frequented by the Obamas. (We're talking about Spiaggia.) In honor of a city that's as proud of its gorgeous, delicate housemade pastas as its huge, family-style bowls of noodles, we present our picks for the best Italian restaurants in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best Chicago restaurants
Anteprima What’s not to like about this Andersonville trattoria? It’s cute, it’s bustling, service is helpful, and the food borders between good and great. Year-round don’t-miss items include the tender, lemon-kissed grilled octopus; the salumi plate; and the value-packed antipasti platter. Like any good trattoria, Anteprima rotates much of the menu according to season, but housemade pastas prove as perfect with rabbit ragù in cold weather as they do with bright fava beans and ricotta in spring. In warm weather, seek out the secluded back patio. 5316 N Clark St (773-506-9990, anteprimachicago.net). Dinner. Average main course: $20.
Recommended: Hidden patios in Chicago.
Autre Monde Four Spiaggia alums opened this Mediterranean spot, and in doing so have single-handedly made Berwyn a dining destination. Here, knots of burrata are sprinkled with tarragon from the restaurant’s greenhouse, crackly flatbreads are covered in crispy pancetta and rapini, and a tart shell filled with smooth pureed chickpeas is a provocatively savory, perfect dessert. Best of all are the handmade pastas. They’re as elegant as any in the city. Yet the fact that they’re at a humble neighborhood trattoria in Berwyn makes them taste even better. 6727 W Roosevelt Rd. (708-775-8122, autremondecafe.net). Brunch (Sun), dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $22.
Recommended: Profile of Autre Monde restaurateurs.
Balena Between the warmth of the room and the compelling simplicity of Chris Pandel’s food, there is something especially comfortable about Balena, the first collaboration between the Bristol and the BOKA Restaurant Group. Settle in with a few amaro cocktails (our pick: the Montenegro), share a pizza (mortadella with chili oil), don’t miss the smoked mackerel, and wrap things up with the tiramisu (a light and sophisticated take on the staple). Finally, fall asleep on a banquette. With any luck, nobody will wake you up. 1633 N Halsted St (312-867-3888, balenachicago.com). Dinner. Average main course: $22.
Café Spiaggia If you want to dine at Spiaggia but just can’t foot the bill, your solution is this adjacent sibling café. The ingredients come from the same kitchen, so they’re just as impeccable, and the attention to regional Italian tradition is just as detailed. The room is more casual, prices are lower, and service is less formal, making it a perfect lunch escape from Mag Mile shopping. Save room for incredible pastas, like gnocchi pillows in perfect wild-boar ragù or strands of bucatini tossed with guanciale, Calabrian peppers, garlic, onion and fresh basil. 980 N Michigan Ave (312-280-2750, spiaggiarestaurant.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $25.
Ceres’ Table Giuseppe Scurato (BOKA, Topaz Cafe) finally has a place of his own, and the familial feeling it evokes is a direct result of how uncomplicated—but highly flavorful—his food is. Trout is simply cloaked in a fresh butter-caper sauce, house made pappardelle pasta gets tossed in an addictive bolognese sauce, and the pan-roasted chicken breast is perfectly cooked. Sure, there are some missteps, but because the place is completely void of pretense—and because each meal ends with Leticia Zenteno’s fabulous desserts—any low points are easy to forgive. 4882 N Clark St (773-878-4882, cerestable.com). Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $19.
Club Lago Once, a chimney crashed through the ceiling and obliterated the kitchen of this red-sauce stalwart. But Club Lago persevered, just as it has for more than 60 years. Despite a fairly recent renovation, the place looks exactly the same as always, and is even staffed by many of the same servers who have been there for decades. So follow suit and regress to old habits: massive portions of lasagna, soft roast beef on white bread, carafes of watery Chianti and—this is crucial—some pasta with Lago’s meat sauce. 331 W Superior St (312-951-2849, clublago.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $15.
Recommended: Club Lago's Eat Out Award, "The Viagra Award for Staying Power."
Nellcôte Jared Van Camp’s follow-up to Old Town Social is an ornate homage to European eating, drinking and debauchery. Here, Van Camp mills his own flour from local wheat. That flour goes into the restaurant’s featured items: the crust for the pizza and the dough for the pasta. At its best—spaghetti with chilies and mojama, taleggio pizza with charred ramps and smoked guanciale—Van Camp’s food is honest and deeply satisfying. But even when execution falters, fair prices and a high-energy scene make for a great night out. 833 W Randolph St (312-432-0500, nellcoterestaurant.com). Brunch (Sat, Sun), dinner. Average small plate: $11.
Recommended: Profile of Jared Van Camp.
Purple Pig To understand the allure of the Pig—a collaboration of chefs Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven), Scott Harris (Mia Francesca), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, see below) and Jimmy Bannos Jr.—you have to be comfortable enough that you chat up strangers next to you and eventually steal their food. Goat-cheese-and-squash arancini come in an earthy sage pesto so good most people close their eyes while they savor it. That’s when you swoop in and take one. Same goes for the mortadella spread, milk-braised pork shoulder and genius deep-fried deviled egg. If you share the hot brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate, though, you’re an idiot. 500 N Michigan Ave (312-464-1744, thepurplepigchicago.com). Lunch, dinner. Average small plate: $7.
Riccardo Trattoria One of the best Italian restaurants in town isn’t tucked away on some corner in Little Italy. Surprisingly, it’s smack-dab in vanilla Lincoln Park. Chef Riccardo Michi’s family founded the Bice restaurant empire in Milan, so he knows a thing or two about regional Italian food. Don’t miss the orecchiette with wild-boar sausage, garlicky rapini and pecorino cheese or the rack of lamb. Become a regular and the Italian waiters might cap off your meal with a slice of ricotta cheesecake. 2119 N Clark St (773-549-0038, riccardotrattoria.com). Dinner. Average main course: $23.
Spiaggia Want to skip rent this month and have the best Italian fine-dining experience in town? Splurge here. Under exec chef Tony Mantuano, chef Sarah Grueneberg marries Italian foodstuffs with top-notch ingredients and an understanding of cuisine from the north end of “the boot.” The wood-burning oven makes beautiful work of Mediterranean sea bass, domestic duck and prime rib eye, while partners like rosemary honey, bitter greens and aged balsamic finish plates with Italian flair. Pastas from pappardelle to gnocchi (served with ricotta and black truffle sauce) are made fresh every day. Toss in a two-dozen-choice cheese cave and perfect service, and you’ve got a night that’s worth dodging the landlord. 980 N Michigan Ave (312-280-2750, spiaggiarestaurant.com). Dinner. Average main course: $45.