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Looking for Traditional Italian Restaurant inexpensive

good morning chowhounds!

Can anyone suggest a good traditional (not contemporary ) Italian restaurant. If they have homemade pasta even better.
Our price range is about 16-20$$ per person not including drinks or tax or tip.
We are staying downtown, so anywhere in the loop, river north or mag. Mile area.

Thanks!

Yesi

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  1. I assume you're referring to dinner. Given your price range, you'll probably be ordering pasta dishes rather than entrees which will exceed $20 in virtually all of the nicer Italian restaurants downtown.

    Near the north end of the Mag Mile, the pasta dishes at dinner are in the mid-teens at Francesca's on Chestnut, upper teens at Cafe Spiaggia.

    Near the south end of the Mag Mile, they're in the upper teens at Coco Pazzo Cafe.

    In River North, they're throughout the teens at Maggiano's.

    In the Italian Village building in the Loop, they're in the mid-teens at two of the three restaurants there, The Village and La Cantina.

    However, even the more contemporary Italian places all offer traditional dishes as well, including a variety of pastas. Full portions of pasta dishes are mid teens at Piccolo Sogno in River West, upper teens at Coco Pazzo in River North, around twenty at Vivere (the third restaurant in the Italian Village) in the Loop, and upper twenties at the Florentine in the Loop.

    The pasta is homemade at all of these places.

    -----
    Cafe Spiaggia
    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    Maggiano's Little Italy
    516 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60610

    Coco Pazzo Cafe
    636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

    Coco Pazzo
    300 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60610

    Piccolo Sogno
    464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

    Vivere
    71 W Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

    La Cantina
    71 W Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603

    The Florentine
    151 W. Adams, Chicago, IL 60601

    Francesca's on Chestnut
    200 E Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611

    The Village
    71 W Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603

    17 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks nsxtasy!

      Of all of these which one would you recomend? ... we are only going to get a pasta dish and maybe share an appetizer, so the portions can't be too small (as in upscale)
      obviously not looking for a huge plate, just traditional italian portions enough to satisfy without having to order other courses.

      (although in Italy, now that I think about it, pasta is only "part" of the whole meal" its not the only dish... ) :)

      1. re: yesilovestotravel

        Maggiano's portions are quite large, but I can't remember whether the mid to high teen's price refers to the full portions or half portions.

        Cafe Spiaggia is very good but the portions will be on the small side (I've only been there at lunch)

        1. re: rjka

          Thanks rjka!

          No Maggiano's (I'm not into chain restaurants, not very authentic) and we have tons of Maggiano's here in California.

          Yeah, I had a feeling that CS was going to have small portions...

          So ruling those 2 out, which one would you suggest?

          1. re: rjka

            >> Maggiano's portions are quite large, but I can't remember whether the mid to high teen's price refers to the full portions or half portions.

            They only show one price on the menu for their River North location, and it's the same for lunch, for dinner, and for carry-out. It's $12.95 for their "classic pastas" (the carry-out menu notes you can double your portion for $5), and $14.50-20.95 for their "specialty pastas", which are the ones featuring various meats and seafoods.

            Some Italian restaurants have lower prices for half portions of pasta but don't necessarily show them on the menu, which shows prices for full portions. I don't know whether this is true of Maggiano's.

            >> Cafe Spiaggia is very good but the portions will be on the small side (I've only been there at lunch)

            Many restaurants serve smaller portion sizes (with smaller prices) at lunch than at dinner.

          2. re: yesilovestotravel

            >> Of all of these which one would you recomend?

            They're all good, and it really depends what you're looking for. Francesca's and Maggiano's probably offer the best value for the money. I'm sure you're aware that both are part of large chains, locally for Francesca's and nationwide for Maggiano's. I can't really compare their pasta because it's not something I usually order. Hopefully others here can provide additional input.

            You might want to check out the menus on their websites. The links to the right should all have links to the restaurants' websites.

            1. re: yesilovestotravel

              In my opinion (and others will disagree), Chicago is really not the best city for great Italian food- after quite a few disappointing meals, I tend to avoid it. With that being said, if you really want to do straightforward, traditional Italian-American food, I would go to either The Village (mentioned above), or Rosebud on Rush (part of another local chain). You will be able to get large portions of simple pasta dishes done relatively well at either but I think I'd give Rosebud on Rush the slight advantage.

              Avoid Maggiano's at all costs- no matter how cheap the food or large the portions, it's really awful.

              -----
              Rosebud on Rush
              720 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611

              1. re: Bdav1818

                Anyone who claims Chicago doesn't have great Italian food probably hasn't been to very many of our best Italian restaurants (e.g. Spiaggia, Piccolo Sogno, the Florentine, Vivere, Coco Pazzo, Cafe Spiaggia). IMHO it's just not true; we have some great Italian restaurants. We also have some that are not so great. However, it's equally true that just about every large American city has some places with great Italian food (and others that are not so great), so that's certainly not unique to Chicago.

                If I were visiting Chicago on a strict budget, and if I wanted something I couldn't get elsewhere, I'd be eating at our provincial Mexican restaurants like Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, or Frontera Grill, all of which have dinner entrees in the low twenties. I'd also have deep-dish pizza for dinner at least one night, which is even cheaper.

                As for Rosebud, it is indeed another local chain. In addition to Rosebud on Rush, they have several other restaurants throughout the downtown area (Rosebud Theater District, Rosebud Prime, Rosebud steakhouse, etc). In my experience, Maggiano's is every bit as good and as consistent as Rosebud. I don't consider either one the best Italian food in town, but both are places where you get good food and good value. (The best Italian food in town is at Spiaggia, which is outside of your price range, with Piccolo Sogno as runner-up.)

                -----
                Mundial Cocina Mestiza
                1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                Frontera Grill
                445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                Cafe Spiaggia
                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                Coco Pazzo Cafe
                636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

                Mexique
                1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                Piccolo Sogno
                464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

                Rosebud on Rush
                720 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611

                Vivere
                71 W Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

                Spiaggia
                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                1. re: Bdav1818

                  Thanks Ddav1818!

                  Im really not looking for Italian American... I'm 1/2 italian, so anything other than the original won't fly with my family. LOL

                  I had this idea that Chicago would have traditional italian eateries... but im having a hard time finding any thats really authentic...

                  One restaurant even had Ceasar Salad! Ha ha (that is a dish invented in the U.S.) thus not even close to traditional.

                  1. re: yesilovestotravel

                    Did any of the menus of the restaurants provided seem "traditional" to you? I'm curious to see what you are looking for.

                    1. re: lbs

                      I'm going to throw in my two cents here. There are a couple of very good traditional Italian joints a little west of the main tourist area, maybe a 10-minute taxi ride from your hotel. that might fit the bill. I would start with La Scarola or A Tavola.

                      Another option is in Little Italy, a bit west of the Loop near the University of Illinois Chicago campus: RoSal's is as old school traditional as I can imagine. And Tuscany on Taylor is also very good.

                      I would also consider one of the Francesca's chain. Yes it's a chain, but highly thought of in this area. There's one on Chestnut and another in Little Italy called Francesca's on Taylor.

                      Check out their menus and see what you think.

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

                      Francesca's on Taylor
                      1400 West Taylor, Chicago, IL 60607

                      Tuscany on Taylor
                      1014 W Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60607

                      A Tavola
                      2148 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                      Rosal's Cucina
                      1154 W. Taylor St., Chicago, IL 60607

                      Francesca's on Chestnut
                      200 E Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611

                    2. re: yesilovestotravel

                      >> I had this idea that Chicago would have traditional italian eateries... but im having a hard time finding any thats really authentic...

                      It sounds like your idea of "authentic" is the kind of "red sauce" place that was common fifty years ago. They aren't really "authentic"; they're just old fashioned. Go to Italy and you'll find plenty of places with the contemporary emphasis you seem to be shying away from, so Chicago's contemporary Italian restaurants are, if anything, more "authentic" to Italy than the old-fashioned places you seem to be looking for. We have those "red sauce" places, too (such as our Francesca's and Rosebud chains). But so does every city.

                      As I noted above, if I were visiting Chicago on a strict budget, and I wanted something I couldn't get elsewhere, I'd be eating at our provincial Mexican restaurants like Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, or Frontera Grill, all of which have dinner entrees in the low twenties. I'd also have deep-dish pizza (at Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, or the original Uno or Due) for dinner at least one night, which is even cheaper.

                      -----
                      Mundial Cocina Mestiza
                      1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                      Frontera Grill
                      445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                      Mexique
                      1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Thanks nsxtasy,

                        actually, we never order anything with Red Sauce, because 99% of the places ive been to, make it sooo sweet and they don't cook it long enough (which might be the taste of most consumers, which is why they cook it like that) but we hate it! LOL

                        I'd love provincial Mexican, however someone in our group wants Italian...
                        yeah, our family still cooks the traditional italian way! what can I say... to them, modernized italian is not what they are looking for, but I understand what you mean.

                        I'll keep checking out the menu's ... however, there's no way they will go for Maggiano's! LOL

                        1. re: yesilovestotravel

                          >> I'd love provincial Mexican, however someone in our group wants Italian...

                          If you're here for more than one dinner, there's an easy solution... ;)

                    3. re: Bdav1818

                      I have to agree with BDav. It is hard to find good traditional Italian in Chicago. Too many people have grown up with sweet-sauce Italian American and expect that sort of thing when they go to a restaurant.
                      Recommendations here are about as good as you are going to get, especially with the public transportation aspect. Wherever you go, be sure to specify "al dente" for the pasta if that's what you want, as few places cook it that way as a default.

                      1. re: camusman

                        The closest I've had to a traditional (i.e. Italian-Italian) meal in Chicago was the prix fixe at Terragusto. Unfortunately, T just closed altho the chef, Theo Gilbert, will be opening a new (similar, I think) restaurant in Wicker Park shortly. But Coco Pazzo downtown and Piccolo Sogno nearby (altho I've only had their Xmas Eve prix fixe and can't speak to their daily menus) come close. If you want to venture into the neighborhoods try Anteprima in Andersonville and Davanti Enoteca on Taylor. Also Bruna's on Oakley still turns out some pretty good traditional pastas (altho generally not hand-made). In the burbs check out the tasting menu at Gaetano's in Forest Park (altho try to get there when the owner's in town). And, it's been a couple of years since I've been there, but Merlo on Maple is a pretty traditional ristorante, altho we're approaching the higher end there. Anyway, try a couple of these before making any final judgement on traditional Italian dining in Chicago.

                        -----
                        Gaetano's
                        7636 West Madison Street, Forest Park, IL 60130

                        Coco Pazzo Cafe
                        636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

                        Anteprima
                        5316 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640

                        Piccolo Sogno
                        464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

                        1. re: jbw

                          Those are some good recommendations too. (As noted, Merlo on Maple is one of our more expensive places, with pastas averaging low twenties.) Other good Italian places away from downtown include Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park and Campagnola in Evanston. However, keep in mind that, with your tight budget, you'll save $5 per person on transportation by going to a place you can walk to, instead of having to pay for a CTA ride there and back.

                          -----
                          Campagnola
                          815 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60202

                          Riccardo Trattoria
                          2119 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park is definitely more traditional cuisine and actually recommended to me by a couple servers at Piccolo Sogno when asking them for more Italian suggestions.

                            They also have multiple types of sauce at Riccardo Trattoria including (from their menu description) spicy tomato sauce, pink tomato sauce, etc.

                            -----
                            Riccardo Trattoria
                            2119 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

                            Piccolo Sogno
                            464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

                2. If you are willing to travel to the South Side, Cavatappi sounds like exactly what you are looking for.

                  3020 W 95 th Map
                  Evergreen Park, IL 60805

                  http://cavatappirestaurant.com

                  Excellent authentic Italian food. I wish I could eat there more often, but I always order way too much. It's one of my favorite places.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: tzurriz

                    Thanks tzurriz!!
                    That's exactly what I'm looking for: home made pasta and sauces cooked for a long time!
                    Unfortunately it's way too far :(
                    We will be using public transportation and it would take 1 hr to go and another to come back ( and that's with metro and bus combo) way too long for a long weekend stay.

                    Is there anything like this closer to Chicago?
                    Even if it's further from downtown, but only within a 1/2 hr max...

                    It's sounds perfect! Wish it was closer!! :(

                    1. re: yesilovestotravel

                      I just want to second chicgail's suggestion above for A Tavola. Lovely all around and about as traditional Italian as I've had in this city (at least at its given price point). It's a very easy bus ride from River North.

                      Bucktown is home to Antico, which I have also enjoyed. Antico is pretty close to the Western blue line stop.

                      -----
                      A Tavola
                      2148 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                      Antico
                      1946 N Leavitt St, Chicago, IL 60647

                  2. I don't think anyone has mentioned Quartino - it was the first place that popped into my head as traditional Italian in River North with some homemade pasta.

                    -----
                    Quartino
                    626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: aburkavage

                      You guys are amazing!!
                      Thank you soooo much!

                      I think Quartino sounds to be a nice compromise, house made pasta's sound very good from the menu, very close to hotel, and polenta fries for my son! LOL
                      Nice desserts (nutella panino for my son). and the price is right!

                      Thanks everyone again for not giving up! :)

                      -----
                      Quartino
                      626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                      1. re: aburkavage

                        They have so many other things at Quartino that I forget that they have pasta (and I don't think of them as traditional). It's certainly worth considering - not only for the pasta, but also as a way of dealing with that tight budget; they feature "small plates" so you can try more things there while staying within your budget.

                        -----
                        Quartino
                        626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          yeah, they have a very nice variety of things, I love small plates, the house made pasta, cheese fondue, polenta fries, nutella pannini... it really got my attention!
                          btw... I'd never seen sooo many restaurants on the side of the page as in this thread! LOL

                          Thanks again!