Ordering at a counter and taking a number is fine for chai lattes and unevenly-toasted bagels. But when it comes to a $25 bowl of pasta, this type of setup means the food should be fantastic. And that’s not the case at Tortello, a pricey counter-service spot in Wicker Park serving pasta in a space with the charisma of a middle schooler who just got their braces tightened.
While there’s some charm happening at Tortello - you’ll see someone in the front window shaping fresh pasta, and a blue Vespa hanging from the ceiling - the overall feeling is that you’re sitting in a cafeteria. The dining room is cramped, there’s no real table service, and the whole experience doesn’t fit with the expensive price of the various pastas and small plates on the menu.
We’re not saying the handmade pasta here is bad. It’s not - but the only thing you’ll remember about the underwhelming pasta is that it cost a lot of money. Like the $25 bucatini with lobster and tomatoes: there’s enough lobster that it doesn’t feel like an afterthought, but the tomato sauce is too bland. Or the lumache, a snail shell pasta that comes with a forgettable ground beef ragu instead of something richer and more memorable.
There are a few impressive things on the menu despite feeling like you’re eating in an airport terminal. The chiusoni, a doughy, ridged pasta with a similar consistency to gnocchi, is one of them. It’s served with sausage, onions, just enough saffron, and comes in a cream sauce we want to strip down and swim in. Another is the agnolotti, stuffed with sweet potato and mozzarella and topped with salty prosciutto and orange shavings. It sounds like something we came up with in a fever dream after falling asleep at our Naples hotel’s breakfast table, but works extremely well. If every pasta on the menu was like this, we’d be happy eating them anywhere.
Tortello has enough going for it to make it a solid spot when you don’t want to wait for the check after dinner - either because you’ve eaten your weight in carbs, or are in the process of being catfished. Because while the pasta isn’t going to blow your mind, it will be perfectly fine. But unless you’re on Division and find a $100 bill on the ground, you can probably skip coming here.
Nice and crispy on the outside without being too dry inside. Get this, but get it with ricotta and honey. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.
A solid appetizer with crispy florets, tender stalks, and a nice mix of salty and spicy from the neonata (a Calabrian chili-fish paste) mixed in.
These are big, stuffed with burrata, and covered lightly in butter, sage, and toasted hazelnuts. We’re into them because more burrata should come encased in dough.
A perfectly fine tubular pasta with lobster. We like it, but wish the tomato sauce packed more of a punch.
Doughy little bites of pasta with sausage and cream sauce, and our favorite thing at Tortello by far.
Pasta stuffed with sweet potato and mozzarella, and then served with prosciutto and orange. It’s sweet, salty, and a good choice.
Definitely one of the more forgettable pastas here. Big shells with a bland beef ragu, and maybe one or two other things, but we’re not really interested in thinking about it anymore.