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Jul 12, 2006 08:43 PM

Authentic Italian in Chicago?

I'm looking for an authentic Italian place in the Chicago area...not one of those American-Italian rip offs that try to tell you that there food is straight off the boat.

I lived in Italy for 4 months and have to say that since I've been back I haven't found anything close. I know this is mostly a product of the fresh ingredients they use over there, but still, you'd think that places would atleast have authentic Italian dishes on their menu. Like Ribollita for example or maybe some good Gnocchi.

Please advise if you've been to or heard of any restaurants that serve REAL Italian.

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  1. Merlo is the restaurant for you. There are two locations (on Maple in the Gold Coast and on Lincoln Avenue). They have the same menu but slightly different atmospheres. Below are links to two recent discussions.

    Other excellent places to try are Italian are Terra Gusto and Vinci's. (Spiaggia is in another league, but I wouldn't call it authentic.) Hopefully others will chime in with good alternatives. But I'd start with Merlo and then head to Terra Gusto.

    On Merlo:

    On other places:

    With the search engine you'll find other threads.

    1. Pizza D.O.C.
      2251 W. Lawrence Ave.

      The initials in the name of this pizzeria stand for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" / "D.O.C."-- that's the designation guaranteeing that it's the real thing. You will see these initials on the authentic Italian wines.

      Native Italians are big fans of PIZZA DOC in Lincoln Square. They also own (I think there's a Daley connection here) Dunlays and Frasca...both great for drinks and top notch bar food. Take a walk through the square along Lincoln Avenue for a cocktail afterwards...Lincoln Square is a neighborhood worth exploring. Personally I think that the food at Pizza DOC is kind of bland but then again, I've never been to Italy so, maybe I'm used to the "more seasoned & over-thought" American Italian Food. Either way, I'm certain that you'll find authentic Italian Food somewhere in Chicago or surrounding suburbs. Also try Bridgeport, Littly Italy, Elmwood Park/River Forest areas. All three of these areas thrive with Old School Italians, restaurants, grocers, butchers and delis; fewest of them in Bridgeport.

      Chicago has thousands of Native Italian grandmothers, wives, chefs, cooks, etc, cooking up authentic Italian Food. I've had the pleasure of dining on much of this authentic Italian home cooked Food transported from various areas of Italy. This home cooked Italian food is likely the closest to what you experienced in Italy.

      It you fail to find what your looking for in one of the areas mentioned then you'll have to resort to knocking on a few doors...that is, the doors of our native Italians. After all, native Italians are so friendly that they would probably invite you in for dinner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: amoncada

        You're close, but a little off. While the Dunlays own Frasca and Dunlays on Clark (and Smoke Daddy and Dunlay's in Logan Square for that matter), they have no interest in Pizza DOC . . . although the owners of Pizza Doc just opened Trattoria DOC in Evanston. Personally, I've always liked the woodburning oven cooked pizzas at Pizza D.O.C., but now that I've been to Spacca Napoli, I will never return to Pizza DOC for their pizza . . .yes, Spacca is that good and the two places are pretty close to one another:

        The Neapolitan-style pizzas are cooked in woodburning oven that was imported from Italy, and it takes only about one minute to cook the pizza. The toppings are first rate and the staff is wonderful. As if things could not get better, the sidewalk dining area is one of the most peaceful spots in Chicago to enjoy a nice meal.

      2. Follia's owner is Milanese, and if you don't mind the expense, many of the veal items resemble of some of the dishes that I've had in Northern Italy.

        If you're on a tighter budget, you can make a meal out of the appetizers and the Roman-style pizzas coming out of their wood-burning oven.

        953 W. Fulton

        1. Specca Napoli on Sunnyside in the Ravenswood neighborhood is winning raves for its authentic pizzas. La Piazza on Circle Dr. just south of Madison in Forest Park pleased my friends who lived in Italy. Ristorante Agostino on N. Harlem (and Diversey?) is operated by a Calebrese chef who's good with seafood.

          Good luck.