With 22 restaurants and food counters, a cooking school, a grocery store, a wine shop, a bookstore and more, Eataly is not for the faint of heart. The enormous megastore (63,000 square feet!), from Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, is pretty much an Italian food theme park—lines and all. So to help you make an Eataly game plan, we reviewed all 22 places to eat and drink. Since Baffo, the fine dining restaurant, is a totally different animal, we gave it a full starred review.
Before we get to the reviews, here are a few things to help navigate Eataly:
• La Carne, Il Pesce, Le Verdure, and La Pizza & La Pasta are standalone restaurants. If you’re dining out with a group, you’ll need to commit to one and check in at the host stand for a table or bar seat. However, at La Piazza, there are four restaurants: La Mozzarella, Il Crudo, I Salumi e Formaggi and Il Fritto. If you sit at any of those counters or get a standing table in the middle, you can order off all four menus from a server.
• For the other eateries, Il Panino, Il Gran Bar Lavazza, Nutella, Lait Gelateria Alpina, Il Gelato di Eataly, La Pasticceria, La Rosticceria, Il Cioccolato Venchi, Focaccia and Caffe Vergnano, you can either grab a spot at a communal table (there are some downstairs, near La Focacceria and in La Piazza), or take them to go.
• La Birreria, the brewery, has seating, and Vino Libero, the wine bar, has high tables, but you can also buy a drink there and wander around.
• Desserts are located on the first floor, while savory food (except Il Panino di Eataly) is upstairs. Since you can’t get dessert at the sit-down restaurants, you’ll need to head downstairs for a sweet treat.
This is among the richest, creamiest, best gelato we’ve had this side of Italy, and every flavor we’ve tried—pistachio, coconut, hazelnut and sweet milk—is perfect. You can get a single flavor in a small dish, but let’s not even pretend—that’s not going to be enough, even after you’ve had dinner. Go for the medium or large and try a few flavors at a time. They’ll also let you sample, so don’t hesitate to ask. Opens at 11am.—Amy Cavanaugh
The second type of gelato at Eataly is a super creamy soft serve, and the custard flavor is sweet and tastes like a lighter version of Midwest frozen custard. Texturally, though, I slightly prefer the traditional style, as the soft serve melts quickly and it doesn't have the heft of custards we've used to in this region. But would we get it again? Absolutely.—AC
Each version of Eataly is slightly different, so while we’re not sure what we did to get the nutella bar in Chicago, we’re definitely not complaining. There are nutella cookies, nutella crepes, nutella croissants, nutella muffins and more at the small stand. The Crostatina tart sandwiches the hazelnut spread between two buttery, crumbly cookies, while the crepe is thick and eggy and stuffed with nutella. But our favorite nutella delivery system (since consuming nutella out of a jar with a spoon is not an option) is a slice of great bread slathered with the spread. It has the highest nutella to carb ratio, and its simplicity allows you to focus on the rich hazelnut flavor. Opens at 10am.—AC
When someone asks if you want your dessert with more or less caramel, the answer is always more. The salty caramel tiramisu tastes absolutely nothing like any tiramisu I've ever had before (it’s missing the signature coffee-soaked lady fingers), but just move past the name and enjoy the silky smooth texture combined with the crunch of the peanuts all soaked in a delicious caramel. For round two of dessert (wait, you don't eat more than one dessert?) dig into the panna cotta allo zabajone. You'll need to actually do a little digging since the gianduja creates a thick top over the layers of chocolate cake panna cotta and custard. Opens at 11am.—Erin Delahanty
Right next to La Pasticceria, there’s a little case of truffles from Venchi, an Italian chocolate company. You can get chocolates by the piece or build a box—our box of 9 truffles cost $11—and they’re $2.87 an ounce. But that ounce packs a lot of flavor, as in the tartufo bigusto strollato, a whole hazelnut enrobed with soft chocolates and a hard shell, and the praline fragola camarosa, a strawberry jelly candy covered with chocolate lattice. They’re not big enough to count as dessert, so take some home for when you start to feel hungry again. Opens at 10am.—AC
At the first floor coffee bar, the counter is overwhelmed by a crush of people trailing in from Michigan Avenue. The staff is frazzled and has a hard time keeping up during the morning rush, but they remained cheery and polite. On its own, the espresso here isn’t terribly exciting, but the elaborate coffee concoctions shine. A thick foam topping off the iced cappuccino is impressively rich and denser than meringue. The Neve Sulla Lava, a sugar bomb of chocolate, frozen espresso and whipped cream (sprinkled with even more chocolate) is caffeinated dessert in a cup. An assortment of pastries is available, but our almond croissant seemed to have been sitting around since the day before. Grab your coffee, take five steps to the left and you’ll arrive at the Nutella bar, where you won’t care if breakfast is stale because it’s blanketed in Nutella. Opens at 8am.—Rebecca Skoch
The best thing this sandwich counter has going for it is its location, right next to the entrance: You can jump in the short line to place your order without having to enter the fray. Overall, though, the panini aren’t worth the short wait. The delicious, chewy, crusty bread overpowers the thin slices of meat, and eating one of these things leaves you coated in breadcrumbs (and thirsty). The best of the three panini I tried: the Francesca, in which spicy soppressata and soft red peppers stand up to the bread bomb. Sadly, though, this “hot” panino was cold by the time it reached my hands. Opens at 11am.—Laura Baginski
Hidden around the corner from Vino Libero, the upstairs coffee bar Caffè Vergnano is everything we want Italian coffee to be. It’s the perfect last stop after gluttonous snacking, before heading home with your loot. Here there are no fussy drinks laden with chocolate, sugar and whipped cream like downstairs, just impeccably pulled shots of Vergnano espresso served in minimalist cups. For those less brave, a simple caffè macchiato is topped with a soft foam of milk. Stand at the bar and chat with the charming and knowledgeable staff, nibble on your foil-wrapped biscuit and try to pull yourself out of a wine- and-cheese-induced stupor. Opens at 10am.—RS
Trust me, head to this counter on a Friday. That’s when the brisket meatball sandwich is on special, and these soft, fatty, insanely delicious orbs of beef should not be missed. Certainly, the always-available prime rib sandwich is satisfying, too, and the take-home rotisserie chickens will have you tearing at the carcass to hunt down every last shard of meat, but that brisket meatball sandwich… it’s the stuff of dreams. Opens at 11:30am.—LB
The meat-focused restaurant La Carne is the underdog in Eataly’s vast new food wonderland. Ask anyone to join you there for lunch and they’ll probably ask, “But what about pizza?” Use this to your advantage. If no one wants to have steak for lunch, at least there’s a short wait, if any. The carne cruda, beef with olive oil and sea salt, was amazingly tender and light, while the heartier bone-in pork loin with fennel cream was so good we unabashedly gnawed on the bone for extra meaty bits. La Carne is one of the few places tucked away from the shopping masses, giving you some room to stretch out and avoid being smacked in the arm with a passing panettone. Our only complaint was that some dishes desperately needed a few curls of Parmesan (we know you have Parmesan, Eataly.) Opens at 11am.—RS
Were I Mario Batali, I might not have taken the two most popular Italian foods and put them in one restaurant. The result: a 45-minute wait for lunch on a Monday. But he of orange Crocs does know how to achieve consistently perfect pastas—the housemade tagliatelle is textbook al dente with a rich short rib ragù, and the pappardelle is so tasty it hardly needs the meaty mushrooms it’s studded with. The pizzas, which are cooked in a gold-tiled oven worthy of a maharaja’s palace, aren’t as consistent. The Verace’s Neapolitan buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil are ruined by a too-heavy dousing of (admittedly very high quality) olive oil. But the salsicciotta, dotted with housemade sweet Italian sausage, gets that trademark wet center and slightly charred crust of a Neapolitan pie just right. Opens at 11am.—LB
When you want to sit at a counter, but can’t commit to one of the specialized restaurants, there is La Piazza, located smack in the center of the second floor. There’s a wine bar in the middle and surrounding that are La Mozzarella (fresh mozzarella served with vegetables or prosciutto), Il Crudo (raw oysters, clams and crudo), Il Fritto (various fried items) and Salumi & Formaggi (charcuterie and cheese). This is also a good option for grazing and trying lots of items. Make sure one is the supplí, three fried risotto balls stuffed with cacio di roma, a rich, melted cheese. They’re crisp and perfectly salted. On our visit, the crudo—“Italian-style sashimi”—consisted of two buttery little scallops and slices of snapper lightly olive oiled and salted and topped with sea beans. While thickly sliced mozzarella, layered with roasted beets and olive tapenade, was tiring (an entire ball of mozzarella is a commitment), the grand platter of cheese and salumi was teeming with delights, like perfect folds of mortadella, a stunning example of Parmesan and honey. Opens at 11am.—AC
Beer is available at each restaurant, but there’s a separate brewery where you can pick up a pint to sip while wandering around, or grab a seat at the bar or tables. La Birreria is a collaboration between Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Italian brewers Teo Musso of Birra Baladin and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra Del Borgo, and beers from each brewery are available, as are beers brewed right inside Eataly and local brews like Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter and Three Floyds’ Pride & Joy. Sticking to the local brews is fine, but you’re rewarded if you branch out—the first house-brewed ale is Thyme Pale Ale, an American pale ale laced with herbaceous bursts of Italian thyme. It’s extremely thyme heavy, but tastes like a hoppy beer. The Rubus Lamponi from Birra del Borgo, made with wild raspberries, is tart and fruity, but balanced. The draft menu changes frequently, and there are snacks like cheese and charcuterie, fried seafood and vegetables. Opens at 11am.—AC
Probably the shortest line I encountered while at Eataly belonged to Focaccia, which is quietly tucked away on the second floor and easy to miss (I walked by twice before asking for directions). The classica focaccia is flavorful, with just the right sprinkling of sea salt, but used so much olive oil that my hands were dripping with grease after the first bite. The flavor seemed to be missing from the squash, basil and ricotta slice, which could have benefitted from more of the sparingly used chili pepper. The best option seems to be the sandwiches—the prosciutto crudo di parma 18 months is the exact right balance of salt and flavor with complementing textures from the focaccia, prosciutto, arugula and tomato. Plus, it was more than enough sandwich for one person, which makes it perfect to share, so you can try more of Eataly's offerings. Opens at 11am.—ED
For those who don’t want to wait, there is the vegetarian restaurant. While other restaurants and counters often have lines, you can typically waltz into the veggie restaurant, where raw vegetables and overly cheesy dishes comprise most of the menu. The pinzimonio, a rainbow of raw vegetables, is served with anchovy dip, a creamy, salty, savory sauce that I’d happily eat on everything, ever. But the mashed broccoli bruschetta, tender spinach-filled cannelloni and thick circles of gnocchi with a mushroom ragù depend too much on cheese, and this is from someone who treats cheese as its own food group. They’re delicious, of course, but I was hoping for more dishes celebrating vegetables. Opens at 11am.—AC
Landlocked Chicago isn’t known for seafood, and Eataly’s fish counter proves to be an enchanting oasis (fresh razor clams? Yes, please.) The fish here is used in the dishes at Il Pesce, which is sandwiched in the middle of the sprawling second floor. We tried one of the daily specials from the chalkboard and were treated to seared sea scallops with fennel and lemon vinaigrette, tender and perfectly cooked. Save yourself the market price of an entire fish and order the fritto misto, a massive jumble of Italian beer-battered calamari, baby squid and shrimp with a bright spray of lemon juice. Pair it with the insalata mista, a chopped salad, and you’ll have more than enough for two. Opens at 11am.—RS
Vino Libero focuses on natural wines produced without chemical fertilizers or herbicides and with low levels of preservatives. We sipped glasses of a vibrant Vittoria Rosa, slightly sparkling and heavy with minerals, and Adriatico Friulano, an acidic wine from the Bastianich winery in Northern Italy that easily cut through our salty and fatty snacks. A plate of prosciutto di parma and hunks of Parmesan was served bare-bones, without even a crumb of toast. We begged for a handful of crackers, since even we don’t want to gnaw on an entire wheel of Parmesan. But most of the wines served across the Eataly space are natural, and overlaps abound on other menus. You’re better off elbowing your way up to one of the many other bars or restaurants to pair your wine with something special. Opens at 4pm.—RS