Pizza and pasta are synonymous with Italy, of course, but there’s a whole new crop of Chicago restaurants redefining rich and flavorful Italian cuisine while paying homage to its roots.
Eataly restaurants, ranging from upscale Baffo to brew pub Birreria, utilize the freshest ingredients available. Many of the more than 20 restaurants also make everything in-house: this includes butchering meats, baking breads, and curing sausage and charcuterie. As the flagship of Eataly restaurants, Baffo is named for Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti. “Baffo” translates to mustache, and in this case, it playfully honors Farinetti’s trademark baffo. The fine-dining concept caters to the business lunch crowd, but its intimate sixty-seat dining room is more popular for a romantic night out.
Ordering the six-course tasting menu offers you a grand opportunity to sample the best of Baffo: from the house-made tagliatelle dressed in white truffle and Italian butter to an almond and hazelnut semifreddo with honey gelée. If you’re an oenophile, pop for the pairings—the wine director expertly matches each course with an Italian vino. There’s also a well-curated and seasonal cocktail program, so if you’d prefer to have each course paired with the likes of a Hemingway daiquiri or an Aperol spritz, they’ll gladly oblige. Just be sure to make your reservation a month in advance—or take your chances with seating at the bar.
Located in West Town, Charlatan is like a cool Italian bistro in the countryside. You can check out a reading or an original, offbeat production put on by Chicago Dramatists just two blocks away, and still enjoy Charlatan’s late-night menu—right up until 12:30 a.m. Specials like Italian ramen (Wednesdays) and Bolognese fries (Fridays) are just what the doctor ordered for second dinner. Charlatan is pretty busy right up to last call, so expect a lively crowd paired with a soundtrack of classic rockin’ tunes.
Dolce Italian at the Godfrey
Located on the ground level of the Godfrey Hotel, bright, modern Dolce Italian debuted at the property more than a year after it opened. You’ll find that it was certainly worth the wait, as Neapolitan pizzas and house-made pastas dominate the menu. Of special note are the ricotta cavatelli made with lamb ragu and broccoli rabe, and the zingara pizza with spicy salami, roasted peppers, onions, and mozzarella. They’re both perfect for sharing—just don’t forget to pair with a white Negroni or glass of Italian vino.