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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 - www.cocopazzochicago.com
            Cafe Spiaggia - www.levyrestaurants.com

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

            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?

                    1. For something more neighborhood-y and not downtown, I recommend Rose Angelis at 1314 W. Wrightwood. The good is great and mid-priced. Dinner for two, maybe $70-90. The restaurant itself is in a converted house if I remember correctly and there is dining in several rooms.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: marciab

                        I second Rose Angelis, it's my go-to place. They don't take reservations, but you can walk in, give your name and sit at the bar or walk to a local pub and come back. The food is always amazing and the service is great. Super romantic too!

                        Rose Angelis
                        1314 W Wrightwood Ave Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60614

                      2. Ooo! One more suggestion...
                        La Scarola on Grand Ave. is a great Italian experience. I'm not talking fake grapes and wine bottles and the typical dark red interior... just honest, progressive, really, really flavorful dishes!

                        Give them a shot:

                        La Scarola Italian Restaurant
                        721 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

                        1. I'm surprised that no one has mentioned it already, but I would suggest Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park (http://www.riccardotrattoria.com/). I was there recently and had an outstanding meal. The food is definitely a step beyond your traditional checkered table cloth american/Italian cuisine. The chef hails from Milan and his family started the Bice restaurants (NY, LA, CHI). He delivers simple food with amazing flavors that will blow you away. The prices are very reasonable too, entrees range from $14 - $30 with a huge variety of choices. They also have a nice wine list with many decent offerings in the $20-$35 range.

                          1. I've been reading the board for a while and decided it's time to join the fray so here goes my first post.

                            Not sure where you are located but, for the money, I think Zia's Trattoria at 6699 N. Northwest Highway in Edison Park is nice for a special event. I went there for a birthday celebration and I think they do a very good job of serving a large party, something not all restaurants do well. And when I eat there, I never feel stuffed, only sweetly satisfied. As for ambience, it's quite nice-nothing junky about it--there are some photos on the website. At dinnertime, it is very dark, which I find relaxing. Here is a link to the dinner menu--I remember it being a little more expensive than indicated, though, so I'm not sure if the prices are current:


                            Anna Maria Pasteria is not so far flung and also easier on the wallet:


                            1. I second the La Scarola recommendation. Its a very small place with wonderful italian food. Its a more rustic than romantic with very warm and friendly service.


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CorinneM1

                                Pardon my resurrecting a stale thread, but I really had to comment. I'm from Houston and was recently in Chicago to visit my daughter and her husband. First time I'd ever been to the Windy City. It was a Sunday night and several of us went to La Scarola for dinner. As we approached the place, I was already intrigued because it looked like just another hole-in-the-wall eatery from the outside. And I have a soft spot for hole-in-the-wall places. The inside ambiance though was warm and comfortable, and the place was roomier than I'd expected.

                                I ordered the Chicken Vesuvio -- the 1/2 chicken version. The rest of the party ordered various pasta dishes. When my order arrived, I was stunned by the quantity of food that had just been placed before me. Now, I know how to count chicken pieces, having chopped up and cooked thousands in my life. I dunno, maybe the chefs were feeling generous or maybe they just didn't know how to count, but my dish was only 1/2 piece shy of being a whole chicken. And these were not small pieces either, folks. I looked around at the others' platters (not plates, platters) as they began to arrive, and was surprised once again by the sheer quantity of food each platter held.

                                Now, I'll be quick to admit that quantity is no substitute for quality, but my Chicken Vesuvio was simply delicious. And the rest of my party were equally enthusiastic about the meals they had selected too. My daughter and her husband have been going to La Scarola's for years, so they knew what to expect. But it was quite the surprise for us out-of-towners.

                                La Scarola's prices are moderate, especially considering the portion sizes. The decor is comfortable. It's a place where you can relax and have a good time. The walls are adorned with photos of celebrities -- most of them autographed and dedicated to La Scarola. Ernest Borgnine was smiling down upon us at our table. He had nice things to say about the place. :)

                                It was a great dining experience, and the next time I'm in Chicago, La Scarola will be on my short list.

                              2. If you don't mind going west a bit, La Piazza in Forest Park is remarkable. I go to Italy all the time, and there is nothing else in the region that captures what makes Italian food great better than Gaetano. You probably won't meet the chef of the other places listed. Here he will greet you and make you feel like you are being invited into his home. Stick with the chef's menu, esp if you have a VERY hearty appetite.

                                1. I like Enoteca Piattini in Lincoln Park. Don't know how it compares to the others listed but it was a nice atmosphere, yummy food, and not too pricey (link to their menu on menupages: http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...


                                  Apparently they also have special on Sunday evenings. Enjoy!

                                  1. Over the weekend I ate at Cibo Matto, the restaurant in the new Wit Hotel in the Loop. It was very good. The decor is very contemporary and very upscale, the kind of place that wins awards for its design. The food was very creative, and the menu includes American bistro fare as well as Italian specialties. Everything I had was very good, and the one "don't miss" dish I had was an amazing dessert whose main component was a cardamom mascarpone panna cotta. http://cibomatto.therestaurantsatthew...

                                    Cibo Matto
                                    201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

                                    1. LaScarola is perfect place. Tufano's Vernon Park Tap or RoSals also would fit the bill. Some places on Western like Il Vicinato, Bruna's, Ignatz also fot the boll.

                                      I am partial to Gatto's in Tinley Park

                                      Vernon Park Tap
                                      1073 W Vernon Park Pl, Chicago, IL 60607

                                      Gatto's Restaurant & Bar
                                      8005 183rd St, Tinley Park, IL 60487

                                      1073 W Vernon Park Pl Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60607

                                      1. One of my faves in the city is Anteprima in Andersonville, which wasn't open when this post was original.

                                        Another than I haven't been to, but can't wait to get to is Piccolo Songo.

                                        5316 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640