• Nelson Vallejo

Chicago Italian Restaurants That Highlight Regional Cuisine


Travel your way through Italy at these restaurants that bring Sicilian, Neapolitan, and other distinct cuisines to Chicago.

Whether it’s the seascapes of the Amalfi Coast, sun-drenched hills of Tuscany, or romantic piazzas of Rome, there’s a piece of Italy that is beckoning all of us right now. And while current circumstances are keeping us away from the real-deal a little while longer, there is some locally sourced comfort to be found—all through Chicago’s rich culinary scene. Sicilian street food in Avondale, Piemonte-inspired plates in Logan Square, and Roman-style slices are just a few of the ways Chicago Italian restaurants are showcasing the different flavors of the Bel Paese, all of which are on offer to diners looking to escape city-limits living, if only for an evening. Here are five ways to taste through some of Italy's best-known food regions now, from the hearty fare of the north to alfresco feasts of the south, at Chicago Italian restaurants. Scaccia from Sfera in Chicago. Credit: Courtesy of Sfera Sfera Sicilian Street Food A shared passion for Italian culture and flavors led to this Avondale ghost kitchen, where Daniela Vitale and Steven Jarczyk bring together Midwest ingredients with a Sicilian street food approach. “Sicily's culinary culture is a perfect marriage between Italian cuisine and the cuisines of North Africa and the Levant, all major influences on my cooking,” notes Jarczyk, whose menu shines a light on two regional favorites, in particular: arancini (stuffed risotto balls) and scaccia (folded semolina “pizza”). Expect to find several variations of each, from wild garlic ricotta or beef ragù for the former and mushroom or Chicago-style for the latter. Vitello Tonnato from Osteria Langhe in Chicago. Credit: Rachel Bires Osteria Langhe Their most recently opened restaurant Testaccio may spotlight Rome, but when it came to Aldo Zaninotto and Cameron Grant’s first Chicago restaurant, it was all about Piemonte. “The region is a culinary Disneyland, surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Alps and an exciting location for any chef to use as a training ground,” notes Grant. “With Chicago having such a prominent food culture, it made sense that the vision would work here.” And worked it has—the restaurant fills up on the regular thanks to a medley of Piemonte classics, from vitello tonnato (veal carpaccio served with tuna, citrus, and capers) to coniglio (prosciutto-wrapped rabbit saddles with polenta and mushrooms). Still, it’s the plin that often steals the show—Grant’s take on the region’s billowy egg yolk pasta, which he fills with La Tur cheese and fresh thyme. Spacca Napoli After spending several years in Italy, Jonathan Goldsmith and Ginny Sykes returned to Chicago to open this pizza haven, where Naples is at the forefront of every aspect (right down to the ovens, built onsite by third and fourth-generation artisans from Napoli). The team keeps in close contact with the region’s farmers, winemakers, and vendors to carefully source their ingredients and products, relying on years-long relationships to inform their menu—a collection of plates like fiori di zucca (squash blossoms), peperoni e patate, and polpette Napoletana. And then, of course, the main event: Neapolitan-style pizza, offering more than a dozen different topping variations (think Puttanesca, Diavola, and Cinque Formaggi, among others). Coco Pazzo Restaurant. Credit: Avery House Creative/Matt Savage Coco Pazzo Those yearning for a Tuscan escape will do well by a visit to this River North restaurant, which has been serving fine dining interpretations from the region for more than 30 years. Seasonal ingredients, key herbs, and thoughtful, age-old techniques are applied to a handful of house specialties, including rigatoni alla buttera (Tuscan Maremma “Cowboy” pasta, with sausage, peas, and Parmesan), cacciucco Livornese (traditional Tuscan seafood stew), and branzino al forno (Mediterranean sea bass roasted in a wood-burning oven). Pair them up with any of the restaurant’s Italian-inspired drams, from the Negroni Classico to the Aperol Spritz. Roman-style pizza al taglio at Bonci in Chicago. Credit: Rose Photography Bonci Pizza When chef Gabriele Bonci opened up his pie shop in Rome nearly 15 years ago, legions of fans quickly grew for his pizza al taglio—square slices that are sold by the cut and weight. In 2017, he brought that style to Chicago’s West Loop, where he offers up to 30 daily variations with toppings that run the gamut: potato mozzarella, octopus, arrabbiata, and lemon ricotta, to name a few. Those seeking something beyond pizza can find it in their variety of supplì, Roman-inspired rice and pasta balls filled with meat and cheese. (The restaurant also has a location in Miami, FL, and ships nationwide in the U.S.) Coco Pazzo seafood risotto image credit: ©2010 Avery House, Matt Savage

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