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Oct 25, 2008 10:24 PM

Is Spiaggia overrated?

Please help- my husband and I are going for a somewhat spur of the moment overnight trip in 2 weeks. I made reservations at Spiaggia because we love the menu, and love authentic Italian dining. Upon looking at reviews, we are getting nervous that we aren't making the right choice. We have seen that it is overpriced, and poor value. Although we do not have an unlimited budget, we love to spend our hard earned money on a great dining experience. Since we will only be in Chicago for one night, I don't want to make the wrong choice. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. It's not over rated but you can get an excellent meal at Spiaggia's more casual sister, Cafe Spiaggia, for less money if you are concerned about value.

    1 Reply
    1. re: what I want

      "what I want" had exactly the same reaction as I was thinking.

      Spiaggia is excellent in every way - one of the finest restaurants in town, with exceptional service and creative food from award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano. As you can see from the menu, it is quite expensive, but it is not overpriced in comparison with the other finest restaurants in Chicago. If you want to splurge on an exceptional, memorable experience for a special occasion - the "great dining experience" you mention in your post - it may be the better choice for your needs.

      Cafe Spiaggia is, IMO, the best mid-priced Italian restaurant in Chicago, where you can get an excellent meal at an affordable price. If you are concerned about price and value, then Cafe Spiaggia may be the better choice for you, as "what I want" indicates.

    2. Spiaggia is fantastic, and in my opinion, not overrated. If you are looking for a great dining experience, I feel you will not be disappointed if you keep your reservation, as long as you set realistic expectations about how much you will be spending to dine there!

      14 Replies
      1. re: jn2001

        OK, thank you for your help! I think that we are going to stick to Spiaggia. Any must eats for breakfast or lunch? Any must sees in Chicago as well? We will only be there from Friday morning to late Saturday afternoon and I don't want to waste a minute!

        1. re: krygs19

          Hot Doug's for a hot dog on Saturday morning.

          Check out their website and don't skip the duck-fat fries.

          Plan on getting there around 10:00 and waiting for them to open at 10:30.

          It's an experience.

          1. re: krygs19

            For breakfast, there are all-week breakfast places such as Bongo Room, Kitsch'n, etc, and there are places that do a special brunch on Saturdays, including David Burke's Primehouse, NoMI, and Frontera Grill. You can find more information on these and other places for breakfast (including my new report on Burke's) at If there is a specific location (hotel?) where you are staying, we can tell you what's in the immediate vicinity.

            For lunch, I recommend one of the places where you can get authentic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The chains serve our most authentic (and IMHO best) pizza, including their locations around downtown. Giordano's, Edwardo's, and Bacino's serve great double-crust "stuffed" deep-dish pizza, and Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, Gino's East, and the original locations of Uno and Due serve great single-crust "pan" deep-dish pizza. To save time, call ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for it to bake. Again, if you can provide a specific location where you'll be, we can tell you what's in the immediate vicinity.

            Lots of other places are open for lunch; if there is a certain type of food that interests you (Italian, Thai, seafood, contemporary American, etc), let us know and we'll provide recommendations of places that are open for lunch.

            For "must sees", the Chowhound Team frowns on recommendations that don't relate to food. Of course, it all depends on what you enjoy, but Chicago has it all, including museums, beautiful parks (including the new Millennium Park downtown), etc. You can find a lot of information on the website of the Department of Tourism at

            Oh, and if you don't want to waste a minute, then you're not going to want to travel all the way to Hot Doug's, which is half an hour by cab, over an hour by public transportation, each way from downtown, and then (depending on the hour) wait a long time on line, too. It's not the most time-efficient choice.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              We are staying at the Palmer House Hilton- I think that is by Magnificent Mile?

              1. re: krygs19

                Not exactly, although it's not all that far.

                The Palmer House Hilton is right in the middle of the Loop, Chicago's commercial downtown district, named after the loop that the elevated trains make around it. The Loop has a high concentration of office buildings and the financial exchanges. Michigan Avenue is the north-south street that forms the eastern boundary of the area commonly referred to as the Loop, even though it's one block east of Wabash Avenue, which the trains run above. To the east of Michigan Avenue are Millennium Park and Grant Park, and the Art Institute, our largest and best-known art museum.

                As you continue north on Michigan Avenue from the part next to the Loop, you immediately cross over the Chicago River. The stretch of North Michigan Avenue from that point, for the next mile until Michigan Avenue ends at Oak Street, is commonly referred to as the Magnificent Mile. That stretch contains a concentration of luxury hotels and high-end shopping. So the Magnificent Mile is close to the Loop, and the south end is within easy walking distance.

                There are lots of noteworthy restaurants in the Loop, in the Mag Mile area, and in the neighborhoods just to the east of the Mag Mile (River East and Streeterville) and to the west of the Mag Mile (River North). The areas just west (West Loop) and just south (South Loop) of the Loop also have some excellent restaurants.

                Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia are located at the north end of the Mag Mile, at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. Kitty corner from Spiaggia is Oak Street Beach; if you've ever seen photos of a beach in Chicago with high rises immediately behind it, that's where they were probably taken. It's a bit over a mile, maybe a mile and a half, from the Palmer House Hilton; you can walk, take a cab, or take a bus. The el (CTA Red Line, underground portion) goes from Monroe and State, at the Palmer House Hilton, to Chicago and State, four blocks south and two blocks west of Spiaggia.

                The closest place to your hotel for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is Pizano's on Madison, a block or two away. For stuffed pizza, the closest are Giordano's locations on West Jackson and East Lake, and Edwardo's on South Dearborn; I think they're all about 4-6 blocks away.

                For breakfast, Atwood Cafe is a couple blocks north, for upscale American food. Orange on Harrison is about four blocks south and walkable. Bongo Room is about a mile south, at Roosevelt and Wabash. If you walk to Bongo Room, you'll walk right past an excellent artisanal chocolatier, Canady Le Chocolatier. Of the places I previously mentioned for Saturday brunch, David Burke's and NoMI are both right off the Mag Mile, and Frontera Grill is in River North.

                Hope this helps.

                Website links:
                CTA Transit Information -
                Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia -
                Pizano's -
                Giordano's -
                Edwardo's -
                Atwood Cafe -
                Orange on Harrison -
                Bongo Room in South Loop -
                Canady Le Chocolatier -
                David Burke's -
                NoMI -
                Frontera Grill -

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  For those who've traveled and tasted "haute Italian" in the US - How does Spiaggia compare to places like Babbo, Valentino, Il Mulino NY, and All Angelo?

                  1. re: uhockey

                    I have been to Spiaggia a few times, and each time I have found the food to be outstanding. Outside of Italy, I have not enjoyed Italian food this good. Also, the atmosphere is very elegant, perfect for a celebration . . . beautiful views of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street Beach and outstanding service. But most importantly, I think the quality of the ingredients offered at Spiaggia exceed those used at Babbo and far, far exceed those used at Il Mulino.

                    As for Il Mulino in NY, I dined there once two years ago for what was supposed to be a grand evening and I was very unimpressed (as were most in my group). The focus seemed to be on stuffing you to the gills rather than on showing the diner culinary expertise. They offered huge portions of generally good to very good food, but in one of the most uncomfortable seating environments I've ever experienced. Service was frenzied and fake Italian greetings were offered like dollar bills in a strip club. Sorry to those who enjoy Il Mulino but the experience was not for me.

                    I dined at Babbo once, but it was almost three years ago. It was a very good meal. However, as good as it was, I thought it was a tad loud for elegant, fine dining . . . certainly less polished in my opinion than Spiaggia. And as good as the food was, I prefer Spiaggia.

                    I have not been to the other couple of spots you mention.

                    1. re: BRB

                      Wow, strong recommendations......

                      If you get out to LA, I'd definitely check out All Angelo since it seems to hit the same quality over quantity, less loud and more refined manner you seem to associate with Spiaggia.

                      FWIW, I liked Il Mulino but found the seating to be incredibly annoying and loved Babbo, although it certainly was loud.....I dug the Zeppelin, Who, and Stones though. :-)

                      1. re: uhockey

                        Funny . . . at Il Mulino in NY, I seem to recall 10 of us sitting at a table meant for 5 people. And of course I loved when the wait/bus staff would smash into the back of your chair every 2 minutes, although I don't completely blame them for the issue as there was simply no room to move. That experience has kept me from visiting the Chicago location (a beautiful one at that), although I really did not find the food to be transcendent. Rather, I thought they served very good versions of food which I can find at almost any Italian restaurant . . . the ingredients were not special.

                        As for Babbo, I liked the music a lot . . . and the food . . . but maybe just not together, if that makes sense. :)

                        Thanks for the rec of All Angelo. I will definitely keep that in mind as I'm sure I'll be in LA within the next year.

                        1. re: BRB

                          Back from Chicago and could not be happier in our choice to dine at Spiaggia. It was, by far, the highlight of our trip. I have to agree with nxstasy in that I have not eaten as well since my trip to Italy. We started with a bottle of Promis Gaja- it was a little young and the server decanted it immediatly without our having to ask. It was just as the server described; a little light, extremely well balanced with a slight hint of cranberry. Fantastic. They offer complimentary bottled water which was such a bonus because I love Pelligrino and spending upwards of $10 on it always seems rediculous. Our first course was wonderful. My husband had the carne crudo (beef tartar) and it was perfectly prepared with a very nice touch of truffle. I had the burrata which was prepared with roasted, pickled and shaved porcini mushrooms. The burrata was soft and tangy and went perfectly with the mushrooms. Our second course was the highlight of the meal. After reading many positive reviews about it, I decided on the gnocchi with a ricotta and truffle sauce. The gnocchi literally melted in my mouth. My husband decided to splurge and ordered the spaghetti with brown butter and shaved white truffles ($91-yes, that is not a typo). While he was impressed, he actually preferred the gnocchi. To me, a die-hard lover of homemade perfectly cooked spaghetti and truffles, it was the most delicious dish I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. While this is something that I would not indulge on everytime, I do not regret ordering it for a minute. Our last course, to me, was also fantastic. With the recommendation from our waiter, I ordered the Filet, my husband the veal. They do not ask how you would like the meat prepared, which was fine with me because that indicated that it would be perfectly prepared to m/r. Mine was, my husbands was deffinately not. Lets start with mine- the filet had a delicous crust of bone marrow that was crunchy and perfectly cooked. I loved the slight tang of balsamic vinegar- the flavor of it made the dish. My husband's veal, however was raw. He could barely cut the meat and refused to say something to the server because he just isn't a complainer. I, however, did. The server said that it should not have been prepared that way, it should have been m/r- he quickly took it back and returned it promptly. Unfortunately, it was still very hard to cut into and was still not my husbands favorite dish in the world. We moved on from there to a cheese platter of 4 cheeses (our server gave us one complimentary). Another enjoyable dish, and tasted exactly as our server had explained. After that, our server brought us a tasting of 4 different types of gelato (complementary again). Another winner. All and all, the portions were perfect if you are dining there the way dining is meant to be. With several courses. You are paying for quality, not quantity. The service is perfect and the food dynamite. It is deffinately not cheap (with all I described and 2 bottles of wine we paid $750 for 2- $600 for bill plus tip). For anyone who truly loves to dine and can appreciate true Italian styling dining, I highly recommend Spiaggia. Oh, and if you are a truffle lover it is a must! Thank you to those who recommended it to me!!!

                    2. re: uhockey

                      I'm a native Chicagoan, and live in New York now.... imho Spiaggia is far, far better than Il Mulino, with more sophisticated ambiance.

                      I like Spiaggia better than Babbo. Altho both have outrageous food, the atmosphere at Spiaggia is less frenetic and more romantic.

                    3. re: nsxtasy

                      " Chicago's commercial downtown district, named after the loop that the elevated trains make around it."

                      A common misconception. It's actually for the streetcars that circled downtown, years before the elevated.

                      1. re: The Old Man

                        From the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

                        "The Loop is the popular name for the Chicago business district located south of the main stem of the Chicago River. The name apparently derives from the place where the strands powering cable cars turned around on a pulley in the center of the city. The concept was extended to the ring of elevated rail tracks for rapid transit lines connecting downtown with the neighborhoods. "

            2. Congratulations to Spiaggia and chef/partner Tony Mantuano for being named a finalist for the 2010 James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant in the United States.


              2 Replies
                1. re: uhockey

                  I think it's a great honor and Spiaggia deserves it.