Okay, I'm sure this will spark conservatively 200 email replies but I'll be in Chicago end of Feb and am staying in Lincoln Park area and looking for authentic Italian. I don't mind "no frills" but want an impressive Italian wine list so high end is fine too.
In Lincoln Park Rose Angelis is nice. Also Riccardo Trattoria at 2119 N. Clark.
Further south there's Trattoria Gianni and Vinci on Halsted. Vinci has a very liberal BYOB policy if your bottle is at least 10 years old.
Ristorante Dinotto on North Ave at Wells is very nice.
In River North: Pane Caldo, Coco Pazzo, and Spiaggia are all very nice.
A newcomer Il Mulino is getting good press but never have eaten there.
Sorry, but avoid Italian Village it's so over-rated IMO. Basically a cramped tourist destination.
I would think that the quick and easy answer to this question is Spiaggia, as it's regarded as one of the best Italian restaurants in the country. I also like Merlo, Vinci, Topo Gigio (in Old Town), and Coco Pazzo...I concur with Chicago Mike's comments re: Italian Village, but Vivere might be worth checking out (I've never been).
re: Ron A.
Vivere (the haute-Italian restaurant in the Italian Village) is quite good (the place to avoid is the touristy "Village" on the 2nd floor). However, Vivere is not in the same league as Spiaggia. I have had good meals at Pane Caldo, Coco Pazzo and Vinci, but a recent meal at Giocco (another place in the South Loop area that is bound to get a mention)was disappointing. Quartino is getting a lot of attention - I liked the food, but the place is so deafeningly loud I can't bring myself to go back.
Bottom line? Go to Spiaggia - they have the best Italian food in the city, great service, and a great wine list. Expensive, but worth every penny.
I'd agree that Spiaggia is the best Italian in Chicago, but it is by no means a causal place - jacket (and of course reservations) required.
There is also cafe Spiaggia that shares the same restaurant as Spiaggia, but in a more casual environment and with a more limited menu. Wine list is also more limited, but with excellent selections, if a little pricey. I think they had three reds for less than $50, and one was sold out. On my one experience, the service wasn't great, but that was probably just an anomaly. The food was outstanding, and jeans were OK. That said, a light dinner for two with one of those sub-$50 reds was still $150. The main restaurant is far above that if cost is a concern.
I go to Coco Pazzo frequently and have always had excellent meals. A little less formal, and with a very good Tuscan focused wine list. I've made some excellent finds there.
I thought Merlo was over priced and found the service very awkward. Not a fan of it, although the food was good. Had one miserable experience at Giocco.
Used to go to Dinotto and Topo Gigio on Wells St frequently and have always preferred Topo Gigio. I'd say both are a step down from Coco Pazzo or Spiaggia Cafe, but they're still good - and more affordable
Was at Rose Angelis a while ago and while I found the food good and interesting, I would not call it authentic Italian. More like one American chef's interpretation of Italian. But that was a while ago.
I know they will let you order off of Spiaggia's wine list if you want in the Cafe. I was at the Cafe once and a friend of mine asked if they still served a particular wine she loved. They said it was not on their list, but they walked over to the dining room and grabbed the list there and found it and served it in the Cafe.
re: Ron A.
I ate at Spiaggia recently and was thoroughly unimpressed. Our dinner worked out to cost about as much as Trotter's or Tru. The service was much worse, the portions were smaller and the food was not particularly well prepared.
We were dumped at a table in the corner, one of two that don't have a nice window view. At a restaurant of this level, those tables shouldn't exist. They should be service stations. When the entire restaurant is arranged around a wall of windows overlooking Michigan Ave and the lake, and you end up at the table without the view, you feel like a second class citizen.
We were seated and waited quite a while for a server. Nobody offered us an amuse. There apparently was no sommelier working that night. There's maybe two bottles of wine on the list under $50. When I asked our bored-looking waitress what she'd recommend in that price range, she said they really didn't have anything. We ended up with a $60 bottle of aglianico that was no better than the $10 primitivo I drink every night. Trotters has dozens of bottles of red under $50, and many under $25. It's not hard to find good wine at this price point -- Spiaggia just apparently doesn't want to.
I had an appetizer of pork trotters and king crab. Badly conceived dish. The pork overwhelmed the crab. Those two ingredients have no business on a plate together.
My pasta -- little coins with brussels sprouts -- were nice.
My main course was Berkshire pork two ways, the braised belly and a roasted loin, along with some cavolo nero. I'd never had Berkshire pork before and was really looking forward to it. The belly was great... but find me a pork belly that isn't great. The loin was overcooked, dry and not very flavorful.
All of this was quite surprising. I've met Tony Mantuano, the chef, a few times and he seems really committed and knowledgable. But wow, is this place not worth it. We left feeling like we'd been hoodwinked. If you're gonna drop $300-$400 on dinner, don't do it at Spiaggia.
On the other hand, I've eaten at the Cafe once or twice and it's excellent food and a good value. Go figure.
There are a few places I love: First, follia (check out their website)--best hoemade pastas and pizzas, great wines as well and cool atmosphere in meat packing/warehouse district. also love Merlo as someone recommended earlier; they have a fabulous quail egg/veal ragu pasta with truffle oil and great mushroom tagliatelle, Other favoorite: expensive, but GREAT wine list and pretty place is pane caldo, downtown onn walton. you can't go wrong with any of these.
The best Italian wine list in the city is definitely at Vivere/Italian Village/Cantina. They share lists, and are 3 restaurants on 3 different floors of the same building. It's right in the Loop, near several theaters. Vivere is upscale modern Italian, the Village is old school, haven't been to the Cantina - it's seafoody. I wouldn't call the Village touristy so much as kitschy. There's a big mural of a village on the back wall, with twinkling lights and a waterfall that comes down and runs a water wheel. I think the food is good for what it is, and it's a fun experience. I don't think it is authentic Italian, it is definitely Italian-American.
71 W. Monroe St.
Agreed on Vivere/Village/Cantina; excellent wine-list, with knowledgeable assistance of Ron Balter. I'd note that Vivere IS authentic contemporary Italian and the food is very, very good. I have dined frequently at both Spiaggia and Vivere and definitely prefer the latter (Spiaggia is a bit contrived food-wise).
If you're looking for really rare Italian wines, Spiaggia (with assistance of Henry Bishop) will proffer some gems!!! Henry prefers Italian wines from autoctonous varietals (i.e rouchet, pelaverga, pelara, etc.) rather than the international grapes; he is very passionate, but has a bit of a poker face, which hides his passion.
I will probably get hate mail for this... but here goes...
One of my fave places in Chicago was Tuscany down in Little Italy (on Taylor Street). Yes it is part of the Phil Stefani empire, but I love places that have good food and treat you right. This place does both. Case in point: Years ago I used to love this rigatoni with goat cheese that they had on the menu. Hadn't been there for a while, and then decided to take some friends who were visiting Chicago there. The waiters are all crusty old Italian dudes who know what good service is about. The rigatoni wasn't on the menu anymore. I mentioned to the waiter how much I loved the rigatoni with goat cheese. He told me to hold on for a minute, and disappeared. He returned to say that he asked the chef to whip up an order of the rigatoni from years past. It tasted just as good as it always had.
Also, Rosebud is consistently good. No matter what anyone else tells you, the ones in Little Italy are definitely different and worth the trip. Besides if you're going to go to Vivere, you may as well go to Tuscany, IMHO.
One place not yet mentioned here is Coco Pazzo Cafe. Just like Spiaggia has a less expensive sister restaurant in Cafe Spiaggia, so too does Coco Pazzo (in River North) have a slightly less expensive sister restaurant in Coco Pazzo Cafe (in Streeterville). Both are very good.
Try RoSal's in Little Italy. http://www.rosals.com I just went there for the first time last weekend. I've lived in Chicago for 2 years now and I can't believe I hadn't discovered this little gem sooner!
The service was exceptional, the atmosphere very cozy. Even if the service had been awful I would return based simply on the food! We enjoyed:
Antipasti: Grilled Calamari--light lemony, yum!
Mussels De Cozze--piping hot
Wines: Good selections, reasonably priced.
Main course: seafood pasta special, light cream sauce with a hint of lemon
chicken scaloppini with prosciutto substitute with vodka cream sauce-- perhaps the best thing i've ever had in my mouth!
a friend ordered the veal and was very pleased as well.
Portions were plentiful and we were too full to try the desserts this time although the desserts at the next table were presented beautifully.
RoSal's is fun and very open to substitions. Food is made fresh to order and staff is well-educated in foods and wines. They gave helpful suggestions to a friend who is a not a "foodie" and they were also attentive to special requests or allergy needs. The kitchen staff has a clear understanding of sauces, portions, and combinations--every flavor was very well-balanced, no spice overdone. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it:)
A quick update on Pane Caldo - I see from their website ( www.pane-caldo.com ) that they have dramatically lowered their prices, undoubtedly to better compete in these recessionary times. Now, the entrees average around $30, and there are some limited-menu prix fixe specials that are an even greater bargain. They offer excellent food along with stylish elegance; this makes it a great time to try it!