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).
It’s okay to splash a little red sauce on the butcher-paper-topped tables in this raucous storefront. Old friends and big families admire the autographed celebrity photos and shots of the owner’s family tacked to the frescoed walls. Smiling waiters squeeze between tables juggling huge plates of eggplant parmigiana and bottles of decent Italian red. Order any of the appropriately garlicky pastas and a plate of escarole and beans for the table; the leftovers will warm up just fine tomorrow.
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 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.
Monteverde is warm and welcoming, making it ideal for a boozy weekend brunch or an indulgent date night dinner. It'd be a crime to visit and not try the house-made pastas—from wok-fried arrabbiata with gulf shrimp to the massive egg yolk-filled raviolo to the pecorino-showered cacio whey pepe. Balance out the meal with a few piattini (small plates) and stuzzichini (snacks); just be sure to save room for dessert.
Located on the outskirts of the West Loop, this Italian institution is known for its meatball salad, Sunday pork gravy and brick chicken. Yeah, it's fair to say that tradition runs deep here. Though it's not as shiny as its surrounding counterparts, Viaggio is the neighborhood's established gem that needn't brag on itself.
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.
This tiny Gold Coast restaurant makes the perfect backdrop for date night. But after one look at the menu, you'll realize that the cutesy interior is backed up by fantastic fare. Start with a plate of artisanal cheese and charcuterie before diving into the soul-warming minestrone, heirloom tomato salad with burrata, decadent lobster ravioli and rustic hand-stretched pizzas. Psst: The best way to try the outstanding wine selection is through one of five flights for $16 each.
This always-hopping River North dining room is decked out with reclaimed wood and subway tiles, vintage mirrors and mismatched chairs. Everything on the menu is built to share, so stock your table with pancetta-wrapped dates, veal meatballs, cavatelli topped with fresh ricotta, asparagus risotto and a few liters of vino.
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, which are 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.
As Lincoln Park’s go-to Italian joint for all occasions—witness the awkward Internet date in one corner, the anniversary celebration in another—it’s easy to get the impression that people are coming here out of habit. In fact, the throngs of people are attracted to the warm, homey room and the housemade pastas like spaghetti with veal meatballs and fennel-flecked Italian sausage, or sumptuous gnocchi paired with a lively pesto sauce. They’re so tasty you’ll realize that the locals’ habit is for good reason.