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 that specialize 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 specifically for casual and old-school Italian spots. But these are the 12 places that 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, come here with a group, or come here 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.
If you don’t know about this little Italian restaurant in Logan Square that quietly opened during the pandemic, well, you should. The menu is short—with some hot and cold small plates, two Roman-style pizzas, a few entrees, and pastas like cacio e pepe and mezze maniche. But it’s all fantastic. The burrata comes with a sweet tomato jam that’s a perfect counterpoint to the cheese, and the pastas are chewy and wonderful. The space is lovely too, ideal for a date night that doesn’t involve one of you throwing bucatini at the wall to see if it’s properly cooked. Or, come by yourself for a bowl of pasta and glass of wine at the bar.
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 bolognese is delicious) and an entree like the osso bucco. This also happens to be one of the only restaurants with burrata that’s 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 owned by former E! Reality stars has some of the best Italian food in the city. RPM Italian is the kind of spot that Chicago does really, really well. It 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 a lot of delicious food. In fact, this spot’s bucatini pomodoro and the cavatelli are two 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 out 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 turns into the equivalent of Mary Poppins’ bag, when the space becomes deceptively large thanks to a huge secluded back patio.
Just because a spot 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 actually 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 all warm and welcoming and will chat with you even if it’s your first time there. On any given 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.
As far as Italian restaurants in Chicago go, La Storia is pretty new–it opened in 2015. But it has an old-fashioned feel (complete with a mural of Prohibition-era Chicago on the wall), and most importantly, delicious food. The pastas are housemade, and entrees like the chicken milanese are fantastic. And while most places in the Gold Coast can be either high-end or ultra-casual, this spot falls right in the middle. There are still white tablecloths, but pastas range from around $15-$28, and there’s a courtyard that has enough twinkle-lights to make it perfect for a date.
Bella Notte Ristorante
A meal at Bella Notte will help you get over the fact that you decided on an ill-fated trip to Cancun instead of Italy for spring break. That was a mistake and the scenes-from-Italy paintings on the walls here won’t trick you into thinking you’ve left Chicago, but that’s fine. Go heavy on the housemade pastas (like the cavatelli or the lobster fra diavolo), and get half-orders so you can try as many as possible. Trust us, you’re going to want to do that.
Tufano's Vernon Park Tap
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.