If it’s possible for a Chicago restaurant to have a genetic jackpot, then Alla Vita hit it. Its DNA includes a trendy neighborhood, successful restaurant group, and a gorgeous dining room that’s roughly the size of Terminal 2 at O’Hare. All of the above are building blocks to create a popular restaurant, but Alla Vita also has delicious food - and that’s what makes it a great one.
This West Loop spot is from the Boka team (who also brought us Girl & The Goat, Momotaro, and Cabra, to name a few) and is decorated with tons of hanging plants, string lights, and an overhead art installation that looks a little like wavy gills. This place is buzzing with staff, and busy with everyone from couples to large groups to solo diners sitting at the spacious bar. Every detail of Alla Vita is designed to make it a crowd-pleaser, which definitely extends to the food.
The menu isn’t going to blow your mind with ingenuity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees), but everything on it is incredible. The dumplings are our reigning definition of the word “decadent″ - large gnocchi surround a soft ricotta center and are lightly covered in a cacio e pepe sauce that’s the pasta equivalent of a silk robe. There’s a juicy chicken parmesan that stays crunchy even while sitting in a fire-roasted tomato marinara, and is topped with enough fresh mozzarella to make us check if Lactaid is eligible under our flexible spending account.
Even the simplest-sounding dishes end up being must-orders. Like a margherita pizza with a chewy wood-fired crust, and lasagna layered with an intensely savory wild mushroom bolognese and pasta sheets that have crispy edges and a satisfying amount of caramelized cheese.
But how long is too long to wait for a reservation just to eat some chicken parm and pizza? Alla Vita’s popularity makes it incredibly busy, and it can be very hard to find a reservation. So your answer will determine whether it’s worth waiting two months to book a table, or if you should walk in and snag a seat at the first-come, first-served bar. We’ve always had fantastic service eating at the bar with just dumplings and wine to keep us company, so that’s where you’ll find us, talking about 23andMe with the bartender.
Not starting your meal with the bread is the kind of critical error that we’re here to help you avoid. The crusty loaf is topped with taleggio, orange blossom honey, and black pepper. And like someone with a corporate card who gives zero fcks, is a welcome addition to any table.
Invite some fried seafood to the party. The lightly battered shrimp and calamari are nicely complemented by a lemon-calabrian chili aioli. Our only request is for a little more seasoning.
The pizza selection is small but mighty. There are five-ish options, like an exceptional margherita, the truffle mushroom, and soppressata with calabrian chili and honey. The wood-fired crust is chewy, and it has a nicely charred undercarriage.
Whenever we talk about the cacio e pepe dumplings, we sound like narrators of a Sybaris commercial. We use words like “silky” and “luxurious” and “discreet.” OK, maybe not the last one, but trust us, you want these pillowy dumplings filled with ricotta to be a part of your life.
There is no shortage of vodka rigatoni in Chicago right now, but the one at Alla Vita ticks all of the creamy, spicy, al dente boxes.
This dish is one of our favorites on the menu. Wild mushroom bolognese and fontina are layered with fresh pasta and a rich marinara sauce. The combination of mushroom bolognese and caramelized cheese is so savory that it makes us forget that the concept of “meat sauce” even exists.
The chef here is also the head chef of GG’s Chicken Shop, so it’s not surprising that Alla Vita nails the chicken parmesan. The breading is well-seasoned, and somehow stays crispy despite sitting in a fire-roasted tomato sauce.