If there’s one thing Chicago is known for, it’s Italian food. The city’s Italian roots run deep, as seen in iconic Windy City dishes like Italian beef and deep dish pizza.
Sometimes, though, you need a leisurely meal with wine, bread, and all the accoutrements. For those times, head downtown. Some of the best osterias, trattorias and risorantes can be found in the bustling area known as “The Loop.” Whether you are out for a power lunch, pre-theater drinks and snacks, or a romantic dinner, downtown has plenty of options for when you need your pasta and vino fix.
A popular dining spot for theater-goers and gallery buffs, Acanto is just steps from Millennium Park along Chicago’s Cultural Mile. Executive Chef Christopher Gawronski’s creations—which center around high quality ingredients—a stellar wine list, and attentive service make this one of the most-loved Italian spots in town. The curated lunch menu has the perfect amount of options, ranging from a crisp baby kale and chicken salad to housemade pastas (which can be prepared gluten-free) and muffaletta. At dinner, start with the salt cod crochettes and spicy coppa dates stuffed with gorgonzola, almonds and herbs. The evening menu is full of classics—think lamb ragu, chicken piccata, beautiful cappeletti— but with some twists, like the Maine lobster spaghetti and blue crab bucatini with peas. You can’t go wrong with any of the desserts, but the strawberry tart with housemade ricotta and the salted caramel budino should not be missed.
18 S. Michigan Ave.
Trattoria No. 10
Eco-conscious foodies will appreciate that this is one of Chicago’s first “Guaranteed Green” establishments, denoting a high level of environmental responsibility in all aspects of the restaurant’s operation. Menu specialties range from unique handmade ravioli to sustainable fish selections and grass fed beef selections. Inventive flavor combinations such as the farfalle with duck confit and pine nuts and the soft shell blue crab with apricot purée and arugula are modern interpretations of Italian classics. Art lovers will appreciate the arched walkways, wall murals and original pieces throughout the space.
10 N. Dearborn St.
Chef Luca Corrazina was born and raised in Pavlova, and grew up cooking with his mother. It was she who instilled the culinary philosophy that informs his approach at 312: “The best ingredients, treated with care, can result in perfection.” His cooking showcases a less-is-more approach, seen in dishes like the fava bean salad, delicately-roasted mediterranean sea bass, and Cotoletta Milanese—a breaded pork chop with melted mozzarella and roasted tomato relish. Prixe fixe lunch and dinner menus are offered, and the restaurant’s prime location adjacent to the Kimpton Allegro and across from city hall makes for an added bonus: they serve a hearty breakfast and brunch as well.
136 N. LaSalle Dr.
Filini Bar and Restaurant
It’s hard to pick a favorite part about Filini. With its contemporary decor, sexy lighting, chic lounge spaces and killer cocktail list, the place has a lot going for it. Ultimately, though, Chicagoans are all about flavor, and Filini nails it in that department as well. Located in the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, the menu offers a four-course tasting menu along with a robust antipasti and sides selection. A respectable wine list and warm, attentive service makes Filini a solid choice for Italian dining in the Loop—this is the spot to indulge in decadent classics like carbonara with pancetta, grass-fed beef and heritage breed pork meatballs, and Skuna Bay salmon with sorrels.
221 N. Columbus Dr.
Rustic Italian fare meets meets modern interpretation at this sleek trattoria, located just across from the Art Institute of Chicago. Chef Carlos Ysaguirre brings a passion for farm-to-table cuisine to his kitchen, working with local growers to procure the freshest seasonal ingredients. Standout menu items: smoked beef brisket ravioli, tagliolini with salmon sausage, fennel, dill and sundried tomatoes, borlotti beans served with soppressata and red onion, and charred octopus served with leeks and salsa romesco. Touted for their artisan cocktail menu and wine selection, Tesori has a daily happy hour featuring tap wines, draft beer, and small plates—the perfect place to wind down after work or catch up with friends.
65 E. Adams St.
Tucked inside the JW Marriott Chicago, The Florentine is an elegant respite, showcasing fresh interpretations of classic dishes using local, seasonal ingredients alongside imported Italian pastas, meats, cheeses and salts. A handsome circular bar with a bountiful antipasti display anchors the space, and an airy front room is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch. Try the deviled eggs prepared with pea shoots, black truffle, mint and pancetta vinaigrette—a creative take on the picnic staple. An impressive selection of hearty main courses ranges from crispy pork shank in to Faroe Islands salmon. Go heavy on the sides, which are all outstanding, especially the baby carrots and the broccolini with roasted grapes.
151 W. Adams St.
Can’t agree on where to have dinner? Head to Italian Village. With three unique concepts under one roof, you can restaurant hop hassle-free. Start with appetizers and drinks at The Village’s handsome bar, located on the lower level. For the main course, head upstairs to Vivere, which offers a more formal atmosphere. Vivere specializes in creating dishes that follow the latest trends in Italian cuisine, while still paying homage to rich culinary traditions. Ascend another flight of stairs to The Village—which is designed to recreate a turn-of-the-century Tuscan community—for dessert. On the way out, take a moment to peruse the images of celebrities, dignitaries and athletes that have dined here since the restaurant’s opening in 1927.
71 W. Monroe St.