Pizzeria Portofino


River North

$$$$Perfect For:Outdoor/Patio SituationSee And Be SeenWasting Your Time and Money


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Terrible food and apathetic service make Pizzeria Portofino an objectively bad restaurant. But it’s a special kind of bad - the kind that comes after getting your hopes up, the same way Carrie’s were right before she was voted prom queen. This busy riverfront spot comes from the same team behind RPM Steak and Italian, two other popular places in River North that still manage to have excellent food and service. So it’s easy to believe Portofino will be similar. But it’s a trick.

In theory, Pizzeria Portofino is a very appealing place: it’s right on the river, plays the same kind of enjoyable low-key EDM as its predecessors, and has an airy yacht-like atmosphere that’s way nicer than the architectural tour boats going by. But the location means you have to book months in advance to get a table at a decent time, which creates expectations that are waiting to be ruined like a prom dress with a bucket of blood dumped on it.

It’s a let down in a few ways, starting with the variety of disappointing pastas, pizzas, and antipasti on the menu. We’re not sure how the meatball parmigiana manages to be unpleasantly dense-yet-mushy, but it is, and the too-sweet sauce it’s served with doesn’t help either. In fact, all the sauces are a problem here - the rigatoni all’Amatriciana is unbelievably salty and greasy, and the cacio e pepe has no discernable cheese and an overwhelming amount of pepper. The mains aren’t any better - the split garlic lobster is bland and tastes like lake water, and the rogue pieces of shell you’ll find make eating it more stressful than hanging out with Carrie’s mom.

But the food isn’t the only thing that makes this place feel like a 1976 horror movie where everything takes a terrible turn. You know something is wrong the second you arrive when the hosts stare at you blankly and seem confused about why you’re there - even with a reservation. You can also count on being ignored by a disinterested server, and that beautiful river location? Turns out that Portofino’s proximity to the bridge means that a sewer smell wafts by throughout your meal, reverse-Febreezing all over your table.

Carrie was an unlikely prom queen, and expecting a trendy, hyped-up restaurant in a tourist-filled neighborhood to be good seems equally far-fetched. But Pizzeria Portofino does a great job convincing you that this could be true and that you’ll have a fantastic time here. Trust us, you’re better off staying home that night.

Food Rundown

Spicy Tuna Bruschetta

If there’s a Marriott in Cabo with poolside appetizers, they probably taste similar to this. The tuna is slightly warm, almost like it’s been relaxing outside, and tastes very ocean-y in a bad way.

Meatball Parmigiana

The texture of the meatballs and cloyingly sweet sauce is almost identical to a can of Chef Boyardee, except we know what we get when we open a can of that.

Rigatoni Alla Amatriciana

The texture of the pastas here are actually good. The issue with the amatriciana, though, is the salty sauce - and that it’s incredibly greasy even for something with guanciale.

Cacio e Quattro Pepe

Again, the bucatini has a nice bite. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter because the only thing you can taste in the thin sauce is pepper.

Charred Pepperoni Pizza

We actually like the thin crust happening with the pizzas here, and we’re fans of the crispy pepperoni. But other than that, it’s boring. And since Chicago isn’t suffering from a lack of pizza options, it’s definitely not worth a trip here for a mediocre pie.

Burrata Diavolo Pizza

This pizza has a spicy red sauce and is topped with burrata and prosciutto. And everything we said above applies here, too.

Focacce Di Stefano

This is an absolute waste of time. The cracker-thin Ligurian focaccia has no flavor, and the stracchino cheese it’s allegedly “stuffed” with only exists to make it soggy. The best thing about this is if you add prosciutto (for an extra $6) and just eat that off the top.

Split Garlic Lobster

If we could turn back time and forget we’ve ever eaten this we would. The lobster is rubbery and tastes like how the lake smells, along with being seriously under-seasoned. Also, it’s presented in its shell, which we’ve bitten into every time we’ve ordered this.

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Suggested Reading

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RPM Italian

Bill and Giuliana Rancic force us to like them with excellent Italian food in a trendy setting.

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RPM Steak can hang with the Chicago steakhouse classics any day.

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Aba is a sceney restaurant in the West Loop serving tasty Mediterranean small plates.

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Beatrix is a casual and versatile restaurant in River North.

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