Italian food means a lot more than spaghetti and meatballs these days, but sometimes the basics, in an old school red sauce joint, are all we want. They’re the places that originally made Italian food popular in this country – authenticity aside.
That’s why we want to tell you about some of Chicago’s best old school Italian joints – the kind of places where a napkin bib is necessary. While they may not be “the best” Italian restaurants in town, they epitomize the omnipotent powers of a ton of pasta, red sauce, and wine in the presence of family and friends. And of feeling like a mid-ranking member of the mob.
La Scarola721 W. Grand Ave.
La Scarola is one of our personal favorites. We’ve already declared it our go-to for discussing the next person we need to whack for Tony Soprano, which is all you need to know about the type of place it is.
Sabatino’s isn’t a restaurant, it’s a “supper club.” The wait staff wears tuxes and there’s always someone playing the piano on the weekends. It's basically the more laid-back Midwest version of the Copacabana.
Orso’s has been a family owned and operated establishment for decades, which is obviously a requirement here. Where they really kill it is with the awesome patio space for those quaint Old Town nights. Make sure to hit it in the summer.
Is Topo Gigio one of your favorite Italian spots? If so, we won’t judge. It’s got a great balance of charm and action, which makes it ideal for dates and big group dinners alike.
A true classic in every sense of the word. One look at Gene & Georgetti from the outside underneath the L and you can tell this place has been there for years. It's one of the few restaurants where we want nothing more than a large piece of steak and an even bigger bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. What a combo.
Italian Village is literally a village of restaurants. Originally opened in 1927, it houses The Village, La Cantina, and Vivere. But you need to hit up The Village for its scenery, and by scenery we mean it’s painted to look like a lovely evening in an Italian Village. We love Italy in the Loop.
Bella Notte hasn’t been around as long as some of the other classics, but twenty years for this family owned spot isn’t too shabby. One good look at those meatballs in red sauce over there and you’ll see why this place fits the bill.
Club Lucky opened in the early 1990’s to resemble an old 1940’s Italian supper club. That means you get '90s nostalgia and '40s nostalgia all wrapped up into one, and there’s no such thing as too much nostalgia. Settle into one of the big leather booths in the dining room, or take a seat in the cocktail lounge where they aren’t shy about the fact you should order a martini.
Bruna’s is the kind of place your grandpa probably talks about going to when he was a little kid – walking fifteen miles uphill both ways. Grandpa always knows what’s best.
With no sign on the door and a solid stream of regulars, you may wonder if you’ve walked into a restaurant or accidentally crashed someone’s family reunion. Well, you’ve done both. Not much has changed since 1930, and the people are still pouring in for both the atmosphere and the food.
Club Lago’s “About Us” webpage says it all. Opened at Orleans and Superior in 1952 to serve printer and paper salesmen during the days of “three martini lunches.” Rode out the transition of the neighborhood going from warehouses to art galleries, and still thrives today now that it’s a much more residential area. We mourn the days of three martini lunches, but it’s nice to still have Club Lago around.
Italian guy immigrates to United States, works in restaurants, finally saves up enough money to open his own spot. That's how Bacchanalia came about, and hearing stories of the American dream achieved never gets old. It's still family owned and operated today, which is the driving force behind Bacchanalia's continued success.