Old School Italian?
I'm coming to Chicago for the first time to help find my daughter an Apt near the University of Chicago. (We're staying in the S. Loop). Can't wait to hit all the regular must do spots for deep dish, dogs, beef dip, etc.. as well as Topolobompo on Wed evening. Would really appreciate some recommendations for a great local Red Sauce Italian spot. Not touristy... looking for a great locals place that might have baked clams among other old school Italian dishes. I have a real weakness for baked clams and trust me there are no places in my particular part of Idaho that even attempts to put them on a menu. Thanks... by the way... I'll take any other recommendations you might like to offer for off the beaten path, locals places. Will be in your fair city till Saturday night. Thanks in advance...
For Italian in the South Loop, I really enjoyed my most recent dinner at Gioco. It's one of those places that flies under the radar, offering excellent Italian cuisine in a friendly old-world neighborhood-ey setting. www.gioco-chicago.com
For deep-dish, the new location of Lou Malnati's at 8th and State is close by. And for breakfast, Bongo Room at Roosevelt (12th) and Wabash.
As for other places, there are just so very many, it's hard to narrow it down to just a few recommendations, but if I had to mention two "don't miss" categories, one would be our contemporary Mexican restaurants (Frontera Grill, Mexique, Salpicon, Mixteco Grill, and Amelia's Mestizo Grill), and the other would be our restaurants with a "small plates" format, including Mercat a la Planxa (near your hotel), as well as Sable, GT Fish & Oyster, Province, and Perennial Virant.
Gioco is in the South Loop and it is old school Italian. So it's perfect if you want to stay in the area. However, It is also not what I would call "great" and it doesn't have baked clams on the menu.
La Scarola is certainly beter. Gets another thumbs up here. You might also want to consider RoSals on West Taylor St. It's a mom-and-pop place that does serve baked clams and you can't get more old school than that. Both are a pretty easy taxi ride away.
Our all-time favorite for Old School Italian is Bacchanalia on South Oakley. I know I'll get blasted for this, but we stopped going to Taylor Street years ago.... it just seems to have lost it's old school charm years ago. Here's the link (and they have baked clams on their menu!):
It doesn't get any older school than Sabatino's in Irving Park. No one dish will blow you away, but they are solid on all the red sauce classics (I recommend the Chicken Vesuvio). And yes they do have baked clams. I'm just gonna copy paste something I posted here before:
"The reason to go to Sabatino's is because it's a time warp to an old-school Chicago that largely doesn't exist anymore. You walk in and the first thing you see is a dimly lit wood paneled bar, the kind of place where Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin might share a pitcher of martinis. Right next to it is a dimly lit piano lounge where longtime customers are welcome to play. The dining room is - you guessed it - dimly lit, and packed with locals who grew up in the neighborhood. You have musicians strolling around singing in Italian and playing the violin for god's sake.
When the entree arrives, you won't be hungry because it was preceded by multiple free appetizers like fresh-baked bread, pizza bread and spaghetti with marinara. You will try to finish your meal and then give up. The check will arrive, you'll pay it with pocket change and waddle out of the place feeling like all is right with the world as long as places like Sabatino's still exist.
Long live Sabatino's."