We rarely walk away from a meal thinking, “I wouldn’t change a single thing about that experience.” When it happens, it’s like watching a movie where everything - from the acting to the directing to Tommy Lee Jones playing a retired cop with nothing to lose - is just right.
We get that elusive feeling every time we go to Monteverde. This restaurant always has outstanding food, great service, and a meal here always feels perfect - from the opening scene to the credits.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
You’re probably already familiar with this Italian spot in the West Loop. Not just because Monteverde has been popular ever since it opened, or because it manages to walk the (seemingly) impossible line of being upscale enough for a special occasion, yet still feel laid-back enough to walk-in and eat dessert at the bar by yourself. Both of those things are true, but it’s the excellent handmade pastas that made Monteverde so famous that reservations need to be booked 57 months in advance. And it’s worth planning ahead for the fantastic staples like cacio e pepe or gnocchetti con pesto, and seasonal ones (like roasted mushroom ravioli with truffle, spinach, and honey) that are so good we’ve considered using black magic just to halt the seasons. And we won’t blame you for coming here and ordering seven per person - go ahead, do whatever you want. Just as long as you’re not overlooking the rest of the menu, which is just as impressive.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
After all, Monteverde has two of our favorite dishes in the entire city. We’ll start with Lilian’s Cabbage, a small plate that’s easy to miss in your frantic attempt to locate the menu’s pasta (calm down the f*ck down, it’s right there). Thankfully, the fantastic servers here won’t let critical oversights like this happen. They’re attentive without feeling formal and will let you know important things about the menu. Like, for example, that this cabbage filled with a vegetable stuffing and served with a porcini bolognese is not only as delicious as the cacio, but also as comforting as a weighted blanket.
The other stand-out is the ragu alla napoletana - a giant platter with pork shank, meatballs, sausages, and a pile of fusilli. It’s the kind of special that when you share it with someone, you’ll excitedly watch their reaction the same way a Game of Thrones book-reader does when a non-book reader sees the “Red Wedding” episode.
Like one of the crowd-pleasing movies set in the Marvel Universe, Monteverde can be pulled out in just about any scenario. It’s nice enough for a big birthday or anniversary without feeling stuffy or dated. It’s not too expensive - almost everything on the menu is around $20 - and we’ve never looked at our bill after dinner and thought, “How did that happen?” We’re as happy to come here alone to sit at the bar with a glass of wine and bowl of pasta as we are for a date because it never matters why we’re here. Like Sam Elliot playing a grizzled cowboy, it’s just going to feel right.
Burrata e Ham
This is a truly outstanding plate of meat and cheese. It comes with housemade lemon-thyme tigelles that you need to slice in half and use to make an extremely luxurious sandwich out of burrata and prosciutto.
According to legend, arancini was created to use up leftover risotto. Coincidentally, it usually feels like a skippable afterthought. But not here. At Monteverde, it’s lightly fried and the chorizo comes through. And it’s served with tonnato that gives it some rich funk.
Lillian’s Stuffed Cabbage
We never thought we’d want to write a love letter to the humble cabbage. But after having it here, where it’s stuffed with herbs and polenta breadcrumbs and served with a savory mushroom bolognese, we do. There’s an option to top it with a duck egg, and we highly suggest doing so
Ragu Alla Napoletana
When this arrives at the table, it’s a little like meeting The Rock for the first time - you’re excited and a little intimidated. It’s tomato-braised pork shank on a platter with three soppressata meatballs, two cacciatore sausages, and a pile of fusilli. And every single thing is delicious. Little known fact: if for some insane reason you don’t want to order this whole thing, you can get the fusilli on its own.
Cacio e Pepe
If you’re doing Monteverde right, you should have a parade of pastas. And the silky cacio e pepe with al dente noodles should lead the procession.
This one is very spicy and has a fantastic seared flavor from the wok. The shrimp and tagliatelle are cooked perfectly, and we’re big fans of the added texture from the toasted breadcrumbs.
The ravioli here changes, but you should order it no matter what. We recently had ones filled with spinach and ricotta, topped with roasted mushrooms and truffle, and drizzled with honey.
Apple Walnut Sundae
It is 100% acceptable to come to Monteverde by yourself, and sit at the bar to eat this sundae with graham crackers, salted caramel, blondies, and toasted marshmallows. Then get the pork shank as a dessert.