Buon giorno, mi amici! After careful research, I give to you my picks for “19 Best Chicago Italian Restaurants Accessible Via Mass Transit” . What are you waiting for? Mangia!
**** [EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on October 29, 2015. This update includes seven(7) additional, delicious Italian restaurants in Chicago! They are highlighted within the text in RED.]
**Click on the restaurant names for more information and directions.
The Gold Coast
Nico Osteria – This Italian seafood-centric restaurant is located inside the Thompson Chicago Hotel. People adore the brunch, lunch and dinner here. I love swordfish and this grilled swordfish ‘nduja did not disappoint.
Siena Tavern – “Top Chef” contestant and rising culinary superstar, Fabio Viviani, has made this River North spot one of the hottest restaurants in town. It is definitely a “go-to” spot of mine for lunch, dinner and brunch. The focus here is mainly rustic, Tuscan fare. I recommend the grilled octopus starter and the jumbo lump crab spaghetti. Also, one of the best lobster rolls in Chicago can be found here.
Dolce Italian – Chicago has some great hotel restaurants. This one located inside The Godfrey Hotel is a real stand-out. This creamy seafood risotto won my heart.
Balena – This Lincoln Park Italian gem is located near the iconic Steppenwolf Theatre. It is not only very pretty but it happens to have the most expertly executed wood-roasted chicken thighs I’ve ever eaten. Bravo!
Bar Siena – This rustic spot in the West Loop is the younger sibling of Siena Tavern. The more casual digs offer some of the same great pizza, pasta and pastries, along with this totally drool-worthy sausage and peppers sandwich. It was the very best one I have eaten anywhere in years!
Monteverde – Top Chef Contestant, Sarah Grueneberg, opened this gorgeous Italian spot in Chicago’ West Loop neighborhood. She is offering some typical an atypical pasta dishes as well as some wonderful entrees. If there is any version of Chef Grueneberg’s raviolo available on the menu when you visit, you must try it. It’s creamy and luscious.
Formento’s – This restaurant is brought to us by the same group as Balena (mentioned above). The menu here pays tribute to classic Italian-American dishes including Sunday gravy, clams casino and a relish tray (Who does that anymore?!) Very cool. I enjoyed the seasonal and dreamy stuffed squash blossoms as well as this light and lovely local walleye en cartoccio (in parchment paper) with cippolini onions, capers, new potatoes, lemon and a generous amount of olive oil.
Osteria Langhe – This Logan Square spot is serving up the most yummy and comforting cuisine focused on the Piemonte region of Italy. That’s some hearty food and superior wine, folks! You definitely want to order the plin (tiny pillowy purses filled with cheese and spice) which is the house specialty. This is no ordinary spin on ravioli. These little guys melt like butter on your tongue! I also recommend the brunch here. Tell Aldo I sent you 🙂
The Magnificent Mile
The Purple Pig – This is one of the best and coolest dining destinations in Chicago. It’s an absolute “must-do.” Chef/Owner Jimmy Bannos, Jr. won the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef Award” last year. Technically, this tiny Michigan Avenue tapas spot is serving up Mediterranean dishes from Italy, Spain and Greece. While you’ll want to work your way through this fabulous menu, I recommend the pork neck-bone gravy with ricotta and this delectable charcuterie platter. Chef Jimmy’s team is curing these meats in-house.
Cafe Spiaggia – Award-winning Chef/Owner, Tony Mantuano, opened this Magnificent Mile jewel earlier this year. It is the younger sibling to Spiaggia, Chicago’s only 4-star restaurant. The space is more casual and the menu more affordable. But, do not let those details fool you. The food here is just as phenomenal. I highly recommend this farro spaghetti with manila clams. I still dream about it. Enough olive oil to make your skin shine 🙂
Bar Ombra – If you are looking for a taste of Venice in Chicago, this place has got you covered. Located in the lovely Andersonville neighborhood, Bar Ombra nails the look, feel and taste of authentic Venetian cicchetterias. This earthy orecchiette pasta with spicy sausage and rapini hit the spot one hot summer night this year.
Anteprima – This wonderful Italian refuge in Andersonville is definitely one of the very best Italian restaurants in Chicago. It is located a few doors away from it’s sister restaurant, Ombra (#8 above), on Clark Street. The rustic, Italian fare here is wonderful and the courtyard is a delightful oasis in this adorable neighborhood. I recommend that you stop by for the 3-course, $29 pre-fixe. The menu is seasonal and it changes weekly so you’ll never get bored. Anteprima is located at 5316 N. Clark St. Take the Red Line to the Berwyn ‘L’ stop and walk a few blocks west to Clark St.
Tesori – This often overlooked Italian spot is located next door to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Hall near Michigan Avenue. It is a cozy space with some top notch food. While the menu is always changing, I really enjoyed this super flavorful braised chicken thigh ravioli.
Davanti Enoteca – Located on a sunny corner of Taylor Street in Little Italy, this place has such a warm, welcoming old neighborhood feel. I stopped by over the summer for a solo dinner. I love a good veal marsala and Davanti Enoteca’s take on it really delivered the flavor with lots of thinly sliced garlic to satisfy my soul.
Charlatan – This trendy, rustic spot is one of the newer addition’s to Chicago’s best Italian restaurants. it’s located in the West Town neighborhood, along Chicago Avenue and it is serving up some of really creative dishes and cocktails. Try their pesto. It’s the best I’ve had outside of Venice or Brooklyn 😉
A Tavola – Blink and you are likely to miss this tasty, farm-to-table restaurant in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. It’s a cozy spot for some delicious house made gnocchi which is so beloved that you can buy some to-go. 🙂 A Tavola is located at 2148 W. Chicago Ave. Take the Blue Line or Red Lines to their respective Chicago ‘L’ stops and transfer for the #66 Chicago bus.
Ceres’ Table – This bright and lovely Italian spot is located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood on the north side. They offer a great pizza and wine deal from Sunday through Thursday ($22), creative entrees, full and half orders of pillowy pasta, as well one of the tastiest brunches in town!
Cafe Bionda – The South Loop neighborhood home to Grant Park, Museum Campus and Soldier Field. if you are spending time in the part of town and you are looking for a hearty and comforting Italian meal, head to Cafe Bionda. Whether you sit in the bar area or the main space, the attentive staff has you covered with some great traditional, Italian-American fare. I happen to love the seafood entrees and pastas. Cafe Bionda is located at 1924 State St. Take the Red, Orange or Green Line to the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop and transfer for the #22 State St. bus.
Piccolo Sogno – One of Chicago’s best Italian restaurants, Piccolo Sogno, means “little dream” and you don’t want to miss the elegant antipasti, pasta and more here. The patio is one of the most beautiful in Chicago and a “must-do” whether you are a resident of or visitor to The Windy City. This place has won numerous awards and it is a great spot to bring, family, friends and business associates. Piccolo Sogno is located across the street from the Grand ‘L’ stop, along the Blue Line at 464 N. Halsted.
You’re all set, folks! Get up, get out and hop the rails and buses to the 19 Best Chicago Italian restaurants. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. Mangia!
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to the best Chicago Italian restaurants. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!