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’re someone who likes having a server with an Italian accent, you’ll appreciate Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park. This place 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 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, buy some stilettos, 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.
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.
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 are either high-end or ultra-casual, this spot falls right in the middle. There are still white tablecloths, but pastas range from around $6-$18, and there’s a courtyard that has enough twinkle-lights to make it perfect for a date.
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.
Gene and Georgetti’s is technically a steakhouse. In fact, it’s Chicago’s oldest steakhouse, since it’s been around since 1944. But we don’t care about technicalities - it was opened by two Italian guys, and it happens to be a great spot to get Italian food, too. Come here for a big steak and an even bigger bowl of fantastic spaghetti and meatballs.
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 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.