The Best Italian Restaurants In Chicago
photo credit: Sandy Noto
There are a lot of very good Italian restaurants in Chicago, so this guide could have been much longer. It also could have included places specializing in pizza, but the internet only has so much room. And anyway, we have a guide just for that. In fact, we even have separate ones for casual neighborhood and old-school Italian spots. But these places have the very best Italian food in the city. In other words, the restaurants that right after you leave, you’ll immediately wonder when you can go back again.
Monteverde is at the top of this list for one reason: it’s our favorite Italian restaurant in Chicago. Every dish here is fantastic, from the housemade pastas like cacio e pepe and tortelli di zucca, to the ragu alla Napoletana (with perfectly-cooked pork shank, sausage, meatballs, and fusilli)—which is one of the most delicious plates of food we’ve ever eaten. Come here on a date, with a group, or by yourself, and order every single pasta on the menu.
If you’ve eaten at Bavette’s or Gilt, you know they treat pasta with the honor and respect it deserves. Ciccio Mio in River North is an Italian spot from the same team, and the old-timey space looks like it could be a room in the mansion from Clue. The menu has antipasti, pasta, and mains, and everything from the lasagna with bolognese to the crispy chicken parmesan is delicious.
The food at this casual Italian restaurant in Humboldt Park stands out in Chicago’s pasta and chicken parmesan landscape, because every dish has some kind of creative twist. The meatballs are filled with melted scamorza, offering the benefits of a Juicy Lucy without the risk of third-degree burns. The deconstructed lasagna is a pile of handmade garlic mafaldine, whipped ricotta, and a mushroom bolognese that would win in a steel cage death match against any meat version. The restaurant has the relaxed vibe of a European cafe, and is busy with couples on dates, small groups catching up, and people at the bar drinking wine and having oysters—all of whom are probably pretending they’re on vacation.
This Italian steakhouse on the edge of Fulton Market is working hard at channeling mid-century-era glamour, complete with bartenders in waistcoats and a checkered marble floor. It’s loud and sceney, but it's also fun and the theme works. There are excellent steaks on the menu, plus perfectly al dente housemade pasta, and entrees like chicken parmesan and branzino that (almost) outshine the steaks.
A Tavola in Ukrainian Village is easy to miss because it looks like a regular ol’ house. But just beyond the foyer (because it is, in fact, an old house) is an intimate Italian restaurant, decked out with thick window curtains and black and white photos. It's full of regulars who’ve been eating there for years, and don't be surprised if you see a kid blowing out birthday candles. And in the summer, you can enjoy pillowy housemade gnocchi or short rib risotto on the secluded back patio.
This West Loop Italian spot is from the same chef as Boka, which means the food is great. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees), it is delicious. The cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings are now our reigning definition of “decadent.” The pizza has a chewy crust, and the chicken parmesan stays crispy even while sitting in a rich tomato sauce. It’s in the former Bellemore space (which is huge), and it’s decorated with hanging plants and a very cool fabric wave ceiling. The bar is full of people dining solo, and the restaurant is buzzing with staff and everyone from couples to large groups. Reservations are few and far between, so plan on booking a month or so in advance or snagging a seat at the bar right when they open.
Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park is nice enough for a special occasion but doesn’t feel formal or stuffy. Order any of the pastas (the pappardelle with ragu is delicious) and an entree like the osso bucco. This also happens to be one of the only restaurants with burrata worth going out of your way for. It’s straightforward with just olive oil and prosciutto, but absolutely delicious.
Look, it’s not our fault that a restaurant filled with tourists and owned by former E! Reality stars has some of the best Italian food in the city. RPM Italian in River North has big booths that can fit eight of your closest friends, an absurd amount of space, and feels like a 2009 episode of Gossip Girl, along with great service and delicious food. In fact, this spot’s bucatini pomodoro is one of our all-time favorite pastas. Don’t fight it—book a party trolley and just come here.
Enoteca Roma is a small spot in Wicker Park that you might not know serves fantastic Italian pastas and bruschetta. Start with a bruschetta flight (you can choose five different types for $12) and a polenta board for the table (our favorite is topped with a venison bolognese). Then, round things out with the penne arrabbiata or one of the handmade specials. And in the summer, this place becomes the equivalent of Mary Poppins’ bag, when the space becomes deceptively large thanks to a huge secluded back patio.
Just because a restaurant has a bar with regulars doesn’t make it “just like Cheers,” and saying so is usually wishful thinking and obnoxious. But Mart Antony’s might qualify. It’s an out-of-the-way spot on the border of West Town and the West Loop and looks like a typical neighborhood corner tavern. But it’s also a fantastic Italian restaurant. The owner, servers, and bartenders are warm and welcoming and will chat with you even if it’s your first time there. On any night, it’s full of friends getting together after work and couples on casual dates, and you’ll realize that this restaurant is their “place.” Get the clams for an appetizer, and the braciole or lasagna.
Ask a random person in Chicago to name a classic Italian restaurant, and there’s a good chance they’ll say La Scarola. It’s a neighborhood spot with white tablecloths, old photos of celebrities on the wall, giant plates of pasta, and veal scallopini that’s the size of the table. This place is ideal for a casual date night, weekly dinner with friends, or really any time you want to eat delicious Italian food.
Do you like a large dining room and a sea of white tablecloths? How about servers in tuxedo jackets? Well, you will find all of these things at Adalina, an upscale Italian restaurant in the Gold Coast. And even though this sounds like the ingredients of a stuffy restaurant, this spot walks the line between fancy and overly formal—both because of the friendly service, and because it’s busy and loud enough that you won’t feel like you’re eating in a library. Plus, the food is good. The menu has dishes like gnocco fritto with prosciutto, whipped ricotta, and honey (a fantastic starter), housemade pastas like mafaldine with artichokes and almonds, and entrees like a tender bone-in veal parmigiana.
Tufano’s has no menus (everything is just on a chalkboard), and it’s full of regulars, so you may be concerned you’ve stumbled into someone’s family reunion instead of a restaurant. Honestly, since everyone at this place knows each other, you probably have. Not much seems to have changed here since 1930, and that’s why we like it. We come for the friendly neighborhood atmosphere, plus fantastic dishes like the stuffed shells or sausage and peppers. And unlike your last family party, everyone here is very nice and the only reason you’ll see the police is that they come here to eat.
Like Tufano’s, Club Lucky gets extra points for just being so damn likeable. This place opened in Bucktown in the early ’90s, and it’s meant to resemble an old 1940s Italian supper club. It’s loud and crowded, and the main dining room is huge, with lots of tables and big leather booths. The best way to enjoy this place is with a group, and prepare to float away on a sea of martinis and red sauce. Order the fantastic handmade cavatelli in vodka sauce, and you can’t go wrong with the lightly fried calamari as an appetizer. Most of the dishes here are meant to serve two, so we mean it when we say you should come here with friends.