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Looking for a specific Italian restaurant in Chicago

Seven years ago, my husband and I got a recommendation for an Italian restaurant from a concierge at the Hotel Allegro. We requested the most authentic place possible, one that was established vs. new and trendy with a genuine local following--and we really lucked out with the BEST Italian meal ever. But, we have since lost the name of the restaurant. We're coming back this weekend and would love to find it. Here's what we remember:

Reasonable cab ride from Hotel Allegro. Even with traffic, we were in the cab only 15-20 minutes tops. But a bit off the beaten path. We had to wait for a cab when we left, so not on the busiest street.

It had photos of famous diners on the walls, but in spite of that, it struck us both as more of a neighborhood favorite more than a tourist haunt. The servers seemed on a first-name basis with many of the other diners. We felt like we'd stumbled into a very friendly private club.

On the small side (maybe 15-20 tables or so) with real linens, romantic light levels and a noise level that was pleasantly bustling to ensure privacy but not so loud that you had to shout to hear each other. No kitschy Italian decor but not pretentiously staged and overworked, either. They served their red wine in stemless glasses and the atmosphere was pretty and pleasant, not the star of the show.

We kicked off the evening with the most amazing grilled calamari and things just got better from there. The food was definitely chef-driven and it seemed like it might have been chef-owned. I seem to remember at least part of the menu being seasonal; our server was excellent and offered good insights on the best offerings.

If anyone can help us find our little spot of Italian heaven (or even direct us to a place that can nearly replicate the original experience) we'd be very appreciative and would happily offer advice if you're ever eating in the Twin Cities. Thanks!

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  1. We had a nice meal at Merlo on Maple. One of the better dining experiences we've had in Chicago.


    Hope this helps,

    1. There are so many Italian restaurants off the beaten track -- Try Rose Angelis on Wrightwood perhaps?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Didee

        It could also be one of the places west on Grand Ave. So many good ones there that fit Janet's description.

      2. I am not sure which place you went to. Would you know the name of the place if I said it? Was it called "Rosebud?" What you're describing sounds like it could be the one on Taylor Street. This is one of the best Italian places in Chicago. Even some of the Mafia guys like to eat there. Check out their website and see if it looks familiar to you.


        1. La Scarola?


          By the way, a little more upscale, but here's another small chef-driven Italian restaurant that defionitely won'e disappoint:


          1. I am 99% sure you are talking about La Scarola on Grand and Halsted. I come from a very Italian family and it became my favorite restaurant in Chicago within 15 minutes of my first visit. The grilled calamarie is a must!!

            1. I think you may be talking about RoSals on Taylor street, which was still good years ago, but I don't recommend it anymore. To replace it I second the recommendations of La Scarola and Rose Angelis. I doubt it was Rosebud (which is a larger place).

              1. Thank you so much, everyone, for all your help! We have a list of places that look amazing--and now that Southwest Air is finally trying to get a foothold in the Twin Cities this spring with its first route between here and Chicago, we are hoping to get to try every single one of them.

                After looking over the Web sites my husband and I are both about 99% certain that La Scarola is the place that cooked up the meal we both talk about to this day and we are looking forward to going back there this weekend! Thanks again. And if you ever need a Mpls/St. Paul dining tip, I'm always happy to help.

                4 Replies
                1. re: janet1003mn

                  If you're interested in trying other Italian places in addition to where you previously went - here are some recommendations in addition to the suggestions in the previous posts.

                  Spiaggia is THE place to go for a high end, "top chef" type place. It's the only one of the very finest, most creative (and most expensive) restaurants in Chicago that specializes in Italian food. www.levyrestaurants.com Cafe Spiaggia is its sister restaurant, moderately priced and right next door, conveniently located at the north end of the "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue. One of our very best mid-priced Italian restaurants. www.levyrestaurants.com

                  Pane Caldo is a bit more expensive than Cafe Spiaggia, not quite as high as Spiaggia, and excellent. Also near the north end of the Mag Mile. www.pane-caldo.com

                  Coco Pazzo is another outstanding mid-priced Italian place, located near the Merchandise Mart and with a higher concentration of locals than the places off the Mag Mile. www.cocopazzochicago.com Coco Pazzo Cafe is *its* sister restaurant, a bit less expensive, located just east of the Mag Mile. www.cocopazzocafe.com

                  Vivere is an excellent mid-priced Italian restaurant in the middle of the Loop. www.vivere-chicago.com

                  If you get up to Evanston (just north of the Chicago city limits on Lake Michigan), there are two outstanding Italian restaurants. Va Pensiero is mid-priced, and in nice weather offers al fresco dining on their patio. www.va-p.com Campagnola is slightly less expensive and also excellent. www.campagnolarestaurant.com

                  Chicago is not all that well-known for its Italian food because it does not predominate among our culinary scene the way it does in many cities on the East Coast. But we do have many excellent Italian restaurants here, and you can't go wrong with any of these.

                  You can find a more extensive discussion about our Italian restaurants at www.chowhound.com/topics/360990

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Thanks so much, nsxtasy! These all look and sound wonderful. As a Minneapolis native, I know what it means to have a dearth of authentic and well-executed Italian cuisine; we've got some, and several that are really excellent, but they are few and far between. But as the daughter of a Cicero, IL native, and a semi-regular visitor, I know from experience that Chicagoans, from classically trained chefs to owners of mom-n-pop diners, do some mighty fine things with food. I look forward to trying some of your suggestions.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      I disagree with you about Chicago not being well known for Italian food. Besides New York, Chicago is the 2nd most talked about and well known place in America as far as Italian food is concerned. Chicago has a huge Italian-American population, a vast amount of Italian grocery stores and bakeries and lots of Italian restaurants. Chicago has two areas that could be classified as "Little Italy's" with one being the traditional area based around Taylor Street and the other being the small Bridgeport enclave where there is an Italian-American Club. Name one other city besides NY that is more well known for Italian food over Chicago? I'm Italian and born and raised in Chicago (the city, not the suburbs).

                      1. re: Illuminatus

                        Wow, as a frequent traveler to the Northeast and other parts of the country, I have to disagree, firmly and forcefully. When people talk about the finer restaurants in Boston and Philadelphia and Baltimore (just to name three) or even smaller cities like New Haven and Newark and Wilmington (just to name three more) and lots of other cities in the Northeast, they immediately talk about Italian restaurants. Not that they don't have plenty of other types of restaurants; they do - but they have a far higher percentage of Italian restaurants than we do here, and unlike Chicago, that is what their restaurant scene is *most* well known for. Check the restaurant listings in the online yellow pages and you'll find that the percentage of their restaurants classified as Italian restaurants is double that of Chicago (12-13 percent vs 6 percent).

                        As for the population, the percentage of population in many other cities descended from immigrants from Italy is far higher than in Chicago; although that is one part of our diverse ethnic fabric, is it smaller by comparison than in many other cities. OTOH Chicago tends to have a greater percentage of Eastern European, Greek, and many other ethnicities.

                        Again, I'm not saying we don't have great Italian restaurants or an Italian-American community with a proud heritage; we do. It's just that they are a relatively smaller part of our city than in many other cities, particularly in the Northeast.

                        Sounds like you have never spent time in New York's Little Italy, or Boston's North End, or the Hill in St. Louis, or Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood, or...

                  2. Just wanted to let anyone who checked back know that our meal as La Scarola was absolutely delicious...although we're pretty sure it's not the place we went to last time. We had stemmed wine glasses and the place wasn't quite the same. Brighter light. A bit too loud. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time, and now we've got a number of other places to try, too. Thanks again!