There’s nothing like a comforting fried chicken cutlet drenched in melted mozzarella. A truly great chicken parmesan makes us feel like we’re wrapped in a warm blanket of marinara, which is exactly what we need to combat Chicago’s 18 months of winter. And we get the feeling that we’re not alone, which is why we made this guide. Taking into consideration everything from overall juiciness to the crunch of the breadcrumbs, here are the nine spots that serve our favorite chicken parmesan in the city, ranked.
THE CHICKEN PARMS
The best chicken parmesan in Chicago is a risk-taker, because that’s what it takes to be number one. Ciccio Mio boldly breads its cutlet only on the top (the side that’s not sitting in the sauce) so it is able to stay unbelievably crispy. The chicken is pounded very thin, but still remains tender, and the light parmesan crust holds its own against the rich, tangy sauce. As a bonus, it’s topped with three globes of fresh mozzarella that make the whole thing look like Blinky the fish from The Simpsons.
All top-ranking parms have one thing in common: the ability to stay crispy under duress (a.k.a. sauce). This happens at Alla Vita. The herbaceous breading somehow crunches perfectly despite sitting in a fire-roasted tomato sauce. We suspect it’s related to proprietary technology from the chef’s tenure at GGs, a carryout spot that serves an incredible fried chicken sandwich. Plus, this chicken parm is topped with enough fresh mozzarella to make us check if Lactaid is eligible under our flexible spending account. It’s not.
Look, it’s not our fault that a River North restaurant owned by former E! reality stars happens to have some of the best chicken parmesan in the city. The parm here is best described as “zesty,” thanks to a heavily seasoned breading complementing the juicy chicken. It’s served with a side of handmade, al dente spaghetti that’s delicious enough to be ordered on its own, but luckily you don’t have to. Being here feels like being inside a 2009 episode of Gossip Girl, and you’ll probably be eating all of that red sauce while sitting in a giant white leather booth—so consider bringing a Tide pen.
There’s a pocket neighborhood inside Pilsen called the Heart Of Chicago. That’s where you’ll find Ignotz, located next to a bunch of other old-school Italian restaurants with chicken parm on the menu. But Ignotz’s is the one you want. The chicken parmigiana includes tender chicken, light breading, a rich tomato sauce, and a satisfying (but not overwhelming) amount of cheese. And as the cutlet absorbs the sauce, the breading evolves from light and crispy to soft and billowy, which is a texture you never knew you needed until now.
A recent addition to the chicken parmesan scene, this newer spot in Little Italy is coming in strong. The cutlets at Peanut Park are pounded very thin, and as a result have crunchy, almost-burnt edges that we enjoy. The breading is highly seasoned, herby, and covered by a blanket of cheese. It sits on just a light sweep of sauce, which barely covers the bottom of the cutlet. This helps maintain its successful crunch, so we suggest ordering a bit of extra sauce on the side.
Club Lucky is famous for its martinis and giant plates of pasta swimming in red sauce. Most dishes are meant to serve two, including their chicken parmesan. The cutlets are on the thicker side, and so is the coating, which is really more of a batter. The sauce is light and slightly sweet, which is a nice counterpoint to the generous wrap-the-cheese-strings-around-your-fork layer of mozzarella. Come here prepared to float away on a sea of martinis, sauce, and cheese.
If deep dish pizza had a chicken parmesan doppelgänger, it’s living at Mart Antonys. The chicken parm at this neighborhood tavern is very thick, slathered in sauce, and barely visible under a mound of broiled mozzarella. It’s plenty salty, but not too much, making this a perfect plate of drinking food. Which is our favorite way to eat it: at their long wooden bar with a cold beer. Preferably after a trying day.
Sometimes looks do matter in a chicken parm. When they do, put Elina’s on your calendar for date night. Look at all that caramelized cheese, and how the crispy edges glow in the restaurant’s candlelight. But you’re not just here to stare at it lovingly—you’re here to eat. And while the chicken itself is pounded a shade too thin, the stunning flavor and textures in the other components make up for its toughness.
Publican Quality Meats (PQM)
“Infatuation,” you indignantly tweet, “This is a sandwich! It doesn’t qualify!” Technically, you’re right. But it would be grossly negligent if we didn’t include the incredible Parm 3.0 from PQM in this list. The combination of crunchy fried thigh, parmesan, mozzarella, and marinara on a toasted housemade sesame roll is a perfect bite. Just pretend the bun is a repurposed dinner roll you grabbed from the bread basket. Or if you’re a real purist, just toss the bun altogether and make it a fork and knife operation.