Chicago's Italian food scene is wonderfully diverse, from a casual Logan Square restaurant to cheffy Chicago pizza to a fine dining spot frequented by the Obamas. (We're talking about Spiaggia.) In honor of a city that's as proud of its delicate house-made pastas as its huge, family-style bowls of noodles, we present our guide to the best Italian restaurants Chicago has to offer.
RECOMMENDED: Best Chicago restaurants
Best Italian restaurants in Chicago
Regional Piedmontese cuisine is Osteria Langhe's focus, and that means ingredients like truffles, cream and eggy pastas appear on the menu. The space is warm and cozy, and you'll want to order a bottle of well-chosen wine for the table before diving into the food. The plin, miniature agnolotti filled with cheese, are beautiful and light; the beef tartare is impeccably seasoned; and the vitello tonnato tops tender slices of beef with a vibrant tuna citrus caper aioli. In case you needed further proof that Osteria Langhe has elevated Chicago's Italian restaurant scene, order the creamy panna cotta to finish the evening.
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—new chef, new somm, new look. 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 menu is now a tasting menu, with well-cooked proteins, fresh crudos and house-made pastas (don't worry, the gnocchi with ricotta and black truffle sauce remains).
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.
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 'nduja.
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.
B Hospitality Co. (The Bristol, Balena), offers well-executed takes on classic Italian-American dishes, like shrimp scampi, fettuccine alfredo and chicken Parmesan. It’s a comfortable restaurant—the dining room has an old-school vibe, with red leather banquette seating, white tablecloths and black and white photos affixed to the walls, while the long, curved bar and tin ceiling provide a dark, comfortable place to sip classics like Manhattans and Negronis.
When we last saw Sarah Grueneberg, she was manning Spiaggia, and doing a darn good job with fancy Italian food. In November 2015, she opened Monteverde, which offers a modern take on the cuisine. Pasta is made in-house behind the bar and it appears in dishes like a super peppery cacio e pepe, made with ricotta whey; winter-squash tortelloni and an egg-yolk filled ravioli. Start with 'nduja-filled arancini and artichoke-topped crostini, and you'll leave stuffed but happy.
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.
Few restaurants hold the unexpected magic of a time machine, but step inside this North Side Italian gem and the spell is set. Sabatino’s has all the retro charm that today’s hip Italian spots can’t seem to echo—servers are outfitted in tuxedos, the tables are set with fresh flowers and thick leather menus and violinists serenade diners in the candlelight. When ordering, it’s hard to make a mistake amid the menu of old-school classics, like tender veal saltimbocca in a sage wine sauce, or the baked Alaska for two, which is lit at the table with festive sparklers. Any occasional imperfection seems charming in the atmospheric glow, bolstered by excellent red sauce and generous pours of wine. Even after all these years, Sabatino’s still has us enchanted.
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.
What’s not to like about this little Andersonville restaurant? 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 house-made 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.
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 it's 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.