Best Italian restaurants in Chicago

From cozy neighborhood trattorias to fancy splurges, these are the best places to eat Italian food in Chicago.

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Best Italian restaurants: Anteprima

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Photograph: Jason Little

Best Italian restaurants: Autre Monde

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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Best Italian restaurants: Balena

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Best Italian restaurants: Caf� Spiaggia and Spiaggia

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Best Italian restaurants: Ceres' Table

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Photograph: Guido Nardini

Best Italian restaurants: Club Lago

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Photograph: Jason Little

Best Italian restaurants: Nellc�te

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Best Italian restaurants: Purple Pig

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Best Italian restaurants: Riccardo Trattoria

Chicagoans are crazy about Italian food, whether it's a casual neighborhood restaurant, a classic red-sauce joint or a fine-dining spot frequented by the Obamas. (We're talking about Spiaggia.) In honor of a city that's as proud of its gorgeous, delicate housemade pastas as its huge, family-style bowls of noodles, we present our picks for the best Italian restaurants in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: Best Chicago restaurants

Best Italian restaurants in Chicago

Anteprima

Critics' pick

What’s not to like about this Andersonville trattoria? It’s cute, it’s bustling, service is helpful, and the food borders between good and great. Year-round don’t-miss items include the tender, lemon-kissed grilled octopus; the salumi plate; and the value-packed antipasti platter. Like any good trattoria, Anteprima rotates much of the menu according to season, but housemade pastas prove as perfect with rabbit ragù in cold weather as they do with bright fava beans and ricotta in spring. In warm weather, seek out the secluded back patio.

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Andersonville

Autre Monde

Four Spiaggia alums opened this Mediterranean spot, and in doing so have single-handedly made Berwyn a dining destination. Here, knots of burrata are sprinkled with tarragon from the restaurant’s greenhouse, crackly flatbreads are covered in crispy pancetta and rapini, and a tart shell filled with smooth pureed chickpeas is a provocatively savory, perfect dessert. Best of all are the handmade pastas. They’re as elegant as any in the city. Yet the fact that they’re at a humble neighborhood trattoria in Berwyn makes them taste even better.

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Berwyn

Balena

Critics' pick

Between the warmth of the room and the compelling simplicity of Chris Pandel’s food, there is something especially comfortable about Balena, the first collaboration between the Bristol and the BOKA Restaurant Group. Settle in with a few amaro cocktails (our pick: the Montenegro), share a pizza (mortadella with chili oil), don’t miss the smoked mackerel, and wrap things up with the tiramisu (a light and sophisticated take on the staple). Finally, fall asleep on a banquette. With any luck, nobody will wake you up.

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Lincoln Park

Café Spiaggia

Critics' pick

If you want to dine at Spiaggia but just can’t foot the bill, your solution is this adjacent sibling café. The ingredients come from the same kitchen, so they’re just as impeccable, and the attention to regional Italian tradition is just as detailed. The room is more casual, prices are lower, and service is less formal, making it a perfect lunch escape from Mag Mile shopping. Save room for incredible pastas, like gnocchi pillows in perfect wild-boar ragù or strands of bucatini tossed with guanciale, Calabrian peppers, garlic, onion and fresh basil.

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Magnificent Mile

Club Lago

Critics' pick

Once, a chimney crashed through the ceiling and obliterated the kitchen of this red-sauce stalwart. But Club Lago persevered, just as it has for more than 60 years. Despite a fairly recent renovation, the place looks exactly the same as always, and is even staffed by many of the same servers who have been there for decades. So follow suit and regress to old habits: massive portions of lasagna, soft roast beef on white bread, carafes of watery Chianti and—this is crucial—some pasta with Lago’s meat sauce.

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Near North Side

Nellcôte

Jared Van Camp’s follow-up to Old Town Social is an ornate homage to European eating, drinking and debauchery. Here, Van Camp mills his own flour from local wheat. That flour goes into the restaurant’s featured items: the crust for the pizza and the dough for the pasta. At its best—spaghetti with chilies and mojama, taleggio pizza with charred ramps and smoked guanciale—Van Camp’s food is honest and deeply satisfying. But even when execution falters, fair prices and a high-energy scene make for a great night out.

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West Loop

Nico Osteria

Critics' pick

Italian goes glitzy at Gold Coast's Nico Osteria, an Italian seafood restaurant from Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality. The dining room is gorgeous and packed in with people to see and be seen—and also dig into pristine crudo, whole fish and lobster spaghetti. Amaro-based cocktails from Matty Eggleston just add to the restaurant's appeal.

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Gold Coast

Purple Pig

Critics' pick

To understand the allure of the Pig—a collaboration of chefs Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven), Scott Harris (Mia Francesca), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, see below) and Jimmy Bannos Jr.—you have to be comfortable enough that you chat up strangers next to you and eventually steal their food. Goat-cheese-and-squash arancini come in an earthy sage pesto so good most people close their eyes while they savor it. That’s when you swoop in and take one. Same goes for the mortadella spread, milk-braised pork shoulder and genius deep-fried deviled egg. If you share the hot brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate, though, you’re an idiot.

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Magnificent Mile

Riccardo Trattoria

Critics' pick

One of the best Italian restaurants in town isn’t tucked away on some corner in Little Italy. Surprisingly, it’s smack-dab in vanilla Lincoln Park. Chef Riccardo Michi’s family founded the Bice restaurant empire in Milan, so he knows a thing or two about regional Italian food. Don’t miss the orecchiette with wild-boar sausage, garlicky rapini and pecorino cheese or the rack of lamb. Become a regular and the Italian waiters might cap off your meal with a slice of ricotta cheesecake.

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Lincoln Park

Spiaggia

Critics' pick

Want to skip rent this month and have the best Italian fine-dining experience in town? Splurge here. For its 30th birthday in 2014, Spiaggia received a refresh. Sarah Grueneberg is gone from the kitchen and Chris Marchino is in as executive chef. Rachael Lowe is the new sommelier. The space has been redone—the entrance features bottles upon bottles of wine, the tables all face the windows and offer views of Michigan Avenue, there are new chandeliers and everything is brighter and fresher. The new menu featured well-cooked proteins, fresh crudos and housemade pastas (don't worry, the gnocchi with ricotta and black truffle sauce remains). Pastry chef Nicole Guini’s dolcini board, which features a variety of doll-house sized desserts, is a worthy end.

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Magnificent Mile

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