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Oct 30, 2007 07:57 AM

Impossible? Great mid-priced Italian

OK, so I have a relative coming to Chicago for her birthday. She loves Italian food. I am looking for a place that has a nice design (not junky, afterall, it is her birthday), somewhat progressive food (not alfredo everything) and not $30-50 for an entree. I am hoping for teens and twenties for an entree. Any suggestions?

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  1. My two favorite Italian restaurants in the city are in your price range.

    Coco Pazzo - wonderful food and a lovely, but traditional (not particularly trendy or sleek) design. They have amazing pastas and risottos and some really interesting desserts. Pastas are in the teens and low twenties. The rest of the entrees tend to be in the twenties.

    Cafe Spiaggia - a little on the pricy side for what you are looking for, but the food is always spectacular. It shares a kitchen with Spiaggia, which is very high-end and expensive. One note - it has very nice design, but they don't usually use table cloths, which feel strange for a special occasion meal.

    5 Replies
    1. re: SuzMiCo

      Quartino for very good small plates Italian in a quaint atmosphere....from the folks at Gibsons. At State and Ontario.

      I like the Cafe Spiaggia rec too although it's a bit pricey.

      1. re: SuzMiCo

        Just ate at Cafe Spiaggia on Sunday night. It was outstanding. Service was great and the food was delicious. I would highly recommend this place. I think the atmosphere is perfect for a special occasion meal.

        1. re: SuzMiCo

          You could also conisder Coco Pazzo Cafe on St. Claire in the Gold Coast. More casual and less expensive than the main Coco Pazzo restaurant, although the food is not quite as inspired. You can check out the menus for both at their web site.

          1. re: SuzMiCo

            I second SuzMiCo's recommendations; both are excellent. They have websites which show sample menus with prices:

            Coco Pazzo -
            Cafe Spiaggia -

            Coco Pazzo also has a slightly less expensive sister restaurant, Coco Pazzo Cafe, off Michigan Avenue that is also worth considering -

            1. re: SuzMiCo

              My two responses would be the same as suzmico.

            2. We celebrate our birthday at Terragusto. They have a very well-priced prix-fixe meal for 2 ($30-$40 apiece, includes primi, secondi, dolci) and its a BYOB. Be sure to reserve if you go; it's a small place (and occasionally loud).


              We also had a very good meal recently at La Campagnola in Evanston, altho I would definitely focus on secondi rather than pasta there. Still within the $20-$30 range for entrees

              815 Chicago Ave
              Evanston, IL 60202
              (847) 475-6100

              1. I make this rec often and stand by it.
                Check out Tony Rocco's River North -- 416 W Ontario St
                Small family owned and run mama's italian with a little kick.
                You will have a great birthday dinner!


                1. Merlo Restaurant was great the last time I was there. They have a Lincoln Park location and one in the Gold Coast. A little pricey, but worth it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ChiTownCat

                    "A little pricey, but worth it"

                    Quite the understatement actually. The food at Merlo is fantastic and worth every penny. Although they have two locations, it is the location on Maple where the husband and wife owners can be found and the wife is the chef. They are originally from Bologna and their food stays true to the region. All of the pastas are made in-house and are outstanding. But don't worry -- go beyond the pastas because everything's excellent . . . I love the osso bucco and the braised lamb shank and the Passatelli soup with strands of parmesan dough is one of the best soups I have ever had.

                    This is also a nice place to celebrate because it's located in a beautiful old brownstone with dark wood features. If I had to choose between Cafe Spiaggia and Merlo, I'd take Merlo any day of the week, and that's no insult to Cafe Spiaggia because I like their food quite a bit. Merlo is just one of the lesser known gems in Chicago.

                  2. Great suggestions, all. Thanks so much. I will have to try all of these over the next few months. Dinner anyone?