If we’d been told that one of the best pastas in Chicago was hiding out in a glorified food court, we’d shout “Liar! Lies! Stop telling us lies!” and slam the door in that liar’s face. Or at least be a little skeptical. After all, this city has Monteverde, Spiaggia, and a lot of other fantastic Italian restaurants. But now we also have Italianette, a food stall in Fulton Galley. This place not only has the best cacio e pepe in Chicago, but also a bunch of other excellent, handmade pastas that don’t require reservations months in advance to eat.
So yes, this place is a counter-service operation in a food hall. And while you’re probably not coming here for your anniversary, Fulton Galley is still pretty nice - dimly lit with big tables and cushy booths, and a large bar section that’s more comfortable than it has any right to be. More importantly, the affordable pasta at Italianette is delicious enough that we’d be happy eating it sitting on plastic chairs bathed in fluorescent lights, or at the food court in Lincolnwood Mall.
Starting with the cacio e pepe (yes, you heard us correctly - it’s the best in Chicago), made with firm, chewy tonnarelli, and tossed with just the right amount of pecorino and black pepper. It’s an impressive feat of engineering rivaling the Great Pyramids, or the symmetry of Denzel Washington’s face. And while it’s clearly the best, there are six other pastas on the menu that are perfectly al dente and also come with fantastic sauces.
Like the mafaldine short rib ragu, that tastes like what would happen if a Midwestern farmer spent a year in Italy and became obsessed with developing a pot roast pasta. Or the chicken sugo that’s essentially a distilled chicken noodle soup - it’s rich and spicy, and we’re willing to get sick just so we can fully appreciate it. You’ll also find a couple of pretty good thin-crust pizzas available in the evening and a lemony olive oil cake you can get for dessert. But ultimately, you’re here for the pasta.
Food Halls are basically mall food courts that aren’t attached to an Aeropostale and we usually eat in one out of convenience, not for exceptional food. But we get both at Italianette. The only hard part about this place is figuring out how you’re going to explain coming here for your anniversary dinner.
Just like the witty comeback you should have said (but came up with a day too late), this cacio e pepe is perfect 100% of the time. We’ve never had a not-perfect bowl of it. The tonarelli (square-shaped spaghetti) is perfect for the mixture of cheese and pepper, which is also perfect. It’s perfect, OK?
We’re big fans of the wide egg noodles that come with this. And the ragu has tender pieces of chicken and a little bit of chili oil to give it some heat.
This is an incredibly rich short rib ragu that’s served with mafaldine. All the little ribbed edges of the pasta grab on to the tender pieces of meat so we don’t have to worry about them getting left behind in the pasta rapture.
We thought this would be a little boring - it’s just spaghetti pomodoro topped with burrata. But the tomato sauce has some spiciness to it, and when you mix it with the creamy burrata and firm pasta, you remember that not everything needs 683 ingredients to be delicious.
While the above dishes are staples, there are a few things that change, and the pesto set-up is one of them. This is the only pasta we’ve not liked here - the kale pesto is too bitter and needs some acid to brighten it up.
No one needs to go out of their way to eat the thin-crust pies here. But as our great grandfather told us, a pizza won’t hurt.
We’re conditioned to get salads, even if we don’t want one. So in the event that someone asks “should we get a salad?” don’t bother arguing and get this one. The combination of arugula, lemon, olive oil, and parmesan might not be exciting, but we like it just fine.
This is lemony and not too sweet. It comes topped with blueberry compote and with a huge pile of whipped cream riding shotgun on the side. Order this.