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The 15 Best Pasta Dishes In Chicago

By Staff in Best Of on Feb 5, 2014 10:00PM

We love all forms of pasta year round, but we seriously crave a big bowl of warm carb goodness come winter to help aid the chill in our bones. And we never force our noodle habit into just one cuisine. We love slurping up Ramen, digging into Pad Thai or the homey comforts of a good Mac & Cheese.

Below are 15 picks from our staff for our favorite ways to satisfy when the craving hits for all things pasta.

(Cappellacci at Due Lire/Melissa Wiley)

Cappellacci at Due Lire
Pasta is traditionally a primi piatti, meaning there’s a secondi soon to follow. So however much I may like my first course, I’d still rather it not displace my second. Due Lire does things right, keeping its portions in check so you can still enjoy some meat or fish afterward and then some dolci after that. The lightest of the pasta dishes here also happens to be my favorite, perhaps because my love of all things squash doesn’t end with autumn’s pumpkin trade. The cappellaci with butternut squash, almonds and pecorino ($15) acts as an ample appetite stimulant for those who plan to go the distance with a larger main course. The brown butter sauce accents the squash without overwhelming its natural sweetness, while the almonds add subtle sprigs of texture. The fact that owner Massimo Di Vuolo numbers among the kindest restaurant proprietors in the city only make this fortune-cookie shaped pasta taste that much better. —Melissa Wiley

Due Lire is located at 4520 N. Lincoln.

Breakfast Spaghetti at Little Goat Diner
Spaghetti for breakfast? No way! Little Goat Diner is Chef Stephanie Izard’s upscale greasy spoon located right across the street from her Michelin Bib Gourmand Girl & the Goat. Like it’s more sophisticated parent restaurant, Little Goat is filled with eclectic, wild flavors. Some of the most unusual menu items are located under the alluring heading, “Cereal Killers,” where you’ll find the the breakfast spaghetti n’ clams n’ crabs. In this hideous but delicious dish, the spaghetti noodles are coated in egg and pan fried, creating a crispy mass that floats in a fresh, deeply flavored clam broth. Meaty clams, bits of crab, pork guanciale, bok choy and parmesan also adorn the dish. It’s quite possible the strangest pasta dish I’ve ever had, but it actually works wonderfully. The crispiness of the pasta never disintegrates and the flavors collide but never muddle. It’s impressive and plentiful enough to fill you up. — Erika Kubick

Little Goat Diner is located at 820 W Randolph St

Mac & Cheese at Lockdown
Their specialty is burgers, but the Mac & Cheese at Lockdown ranks in as one of the other great things coming out of their kitchen. Twisty noodles with a creamy cheese sauce, you can get it as a side or as an entree and add as many toppings as you want from their extensive list of fruits, veggies and proteins. You’re right if you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Kumas, but if I was forced to choose between the two starchy dishes, I’d go with Lockdown’s simply based on cheese consistency. Both give you heaping portions that almost guarantee you’ll be taking some home, and theirs is just easier to reheat (especially when you’ve got a heavy metal hangover). — Michelle Meywes

Lockdown is located at 1024 N. Western Ave.

Pasta at Publican
Dinner at the Publican is all about family style sharing, passing your plate and digging in to rich delicious dishes that remind you of home (but probably taste better). One dish I always like to order and share with a friend is the pasta at Publican. The ingredients change around but the ingredients are always top notch, making for an incredible dish. The fresh pasta is cooked perfectly, coated with whatever delicious meaty concoction of the moment. My favorite I had was a sauce of chicken liver, so rich and smooth that me and my dining guest could barely finish the order. The current option on the menu is a tagliatelle with rabbit, jarrahdale squash and cerignola olives, a wonderful mix for the winter. Whatever is being featured is sure to be a treat. Publican truly showcases that if you have the best ingredients you can create the most deliciously simple dish. — Lisa White

The Publican is located at 837 W. Fulton Market.

Pad Thai at Penny's Noodle Shop
Whenever I’m in need of a carb boost, I’m craving the Pad Thai at Penny’s Noodle Shop. The dish comes with your choice of protein and is topped with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, red cabbage and cilantro. Simple enough, but it’s the sweet yet hearty and savory sauce that sets theirs apart from other run of the mill Thai joints. With three locations in the city (and two suburban), your stir fried noodle dish is never far away, plus they deliver if you don’t want to brave the elements. — Michelle Meywes

Penny’s Noodle Shop has locations in Wrigleyville (3400 N. Sheffield), Lincoln Park (950 W. Diversey) and Wicker Park (1542 N. Damen).

(Chicken Ramen/Union Sush + Barbecue's Facebook)

Chicken Ramen at Union Sushi + Barbecue
Forget Grandma’s Chicken Soup. The next time I’m sick I’m going to whine until someone brings me a bowl of Chicken Ramen from Union Sushi + Barbecue. The giant bowl is filled with steaming fragrant broth, house made ramen noodles, daikon, cabbage, green onion, cilantro and big chunks of chicken. Gluten-free eaters who haven’t gotten to enjoy ramen this winter are extra lucky with the option of gluten-free noodles. Make sure to add a heaping dose of the chili paste that’s served along with the ramen. I only ate about half my bowl at the restaurant, and still had a full soup container to take home. This is definitely a sick-day staple in my house. — Jennifer A. Freeman

Union Sushi + Barbecue is located at 230 W Erie St.

Farfalle Pollo at The Pasta Bowl
When I lived over in Lincoln Park, you could find me at The Pasta Bowl multiple nights a week, either introducing a friend to their pastas (which you can watch them prepare) or grabbing dinner to-go. My favorite dish was the Farfalle Pollo: a creamy, tomatoey sauce with chicken, mushrooms and basil served over bowtie pasta. Their menu is pretty straight forward, as their name says, just bowls of pasta with salads, apps and paninis. They’ve also got a mobile food truck that is usually parked at 325 E. Superior during the week at lunch time. Get a lunch portion with a beverage for only $4.50. If you’re dining in, though, head on over to The Other Side (the attached bar) for a drink afterwards. — Michelle Meywes

The Pasta Bowl is located at 2434 N. Clark St.

Chilled Soba Noodle at bellyQ
I don’t usually bother with Asian noodles. If I want quick, cold carbs, I’ll just whip up some Annie’s bunny-shaped mac and cheese, leave the little yellow rabbits to cool in the fridge, and then eat them out of the saucepan. Problem solved. But Bill Kim turns even anodyne buckwheat noodles into something truly wicked and possibly wrong, into slippery green veins you might slay someone for if enough sauce lands on your tongue while one falls gleefully down the hatch and there’s only one bite left. The chilled soba noodles with poached shrimp and eggplant fall under the “refreshing” part of the menu, and they are that, but they also take you conceivably darker places than a Doris Day movie. The idea is to share here, but of these I’d recommend ordering your own. —Melissa Wiley

bellyQ is located at 1400 W. Randolph

Gnocchi at Cafe Spiaggia
Gnocchi can be difficult to pull off in restaurants. Many times, dishes can come out gooey or extremely dense. Other times, the dish can be covered in so much sauce that the gnocchi seems like an afterthought. Café Spiaggia shares the same kitchen as its 4-star sister, Spiaggia (currently being renovated), and puts out the same quality dishes at a fraction of the cost. Their gnocchi is absolutely superb combining light-as-air gnocchi with a wonderful wild-boar ragu. It is truly a soul-warming dish that is much needed on these cold, winter nights. — Paul Leddy

Café Spiaggia is located at 980 N. Michigan, Level 2

Pad See Ewe at Butterfly
If there's one thing that Butterfly can be applauded for (and there are many), it's the freshness of this Thai and sushi spot's ingredients. And while Pad See Ewe is a popular noodle dish in many of Chicago's Asian restaurants, Butterfly's is my favorite. The proteins (choice of chicken, pork, tofu or shrimp) are consistently well cooked and juicy. The delicious, savory brown sauce is well-proportioned and the uncommon addition of snow peas to the dish makes for a meal that's filling but won't leave you feeling like a greasy glutton. —Katie Karpowicz

Butterfly has multiple locations.

(Gio’s Cafe & Deli’s Baked Cavatelli/Chuck Sudo)

Baked Cavatelli at Gio’s Cafe & Deli’s
This Chicagoist “One Great Dish” selection remains a favorite of mine especially on days like this where I wait for the snowplows to clear the side streets and my neighbors to shovel their walks. The cavatelli here is cooked al dente and bubbles with a homemade marinara sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, all perfectly baked and served with care at your table. And the dish is huge. There was a time when I was able to eat this all (with optional meatballs) in one sitting. Now I can get leftovers from it.—Chuck Sudo

Gio's Café and Deli is located at 2724 S. Lowe Ave.

Kao Soy at Andy’s Thai Kitchen
While many benchmark Thai restaurants by their Pad Thai, the benchmark dish in Thailand is typically Kao Soy. Andy’s Thai Kitchen puts out an excellent rendition of the dish. Egg noodles swim in a bowl of yellow curry, along with chicken, onions, crushed peanuts and mustard greens. The pungent greens provide flavor contrast to the sweet curry. Topping the dish is a nest of crispy noodles, providing a textural contrast as well. —Benjy Lipsman

Andy’s Thai Kitchen is located at 946 West Wellington Avenue

Rigatoni Boscaiola at La Gondola
When I'm looking for some Italian comfort food, my usual go-to dish is the Rigatoni Boscaiola at La Gondola. This pasta dish strikes the right balance of richness without being heavy. Rigatoni is tossed in a cream tomato sauce, with fresh mushrooms, sauteed Italian sausage and fresh sage. This hearty dish is perfect this time of year, when you need something to warm you up after coming in from the cold. —Benjy Lipsman

La Gondola has two Lakeview locations.

Risotto at Pizzeria da Nella
Nella Grassano makes some of the best pizzas in Chicago but that isn’t the only thing to eat at her Lincoln Park restaurant. The risottos here are some of the best I’ve ever eaten with recipes handed down from Grassano’s family over generations. Choose from four cheese, contadina or my favorite, the pescatora. This mix of mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari and cherry tomatoes is so rich you’ll ask yourself if the Mediterranean has any aquatic life left in it. The flavors are perfectly balanced, the risotto among the creamiest and rich you’ll ever experience.—Chuck Sudo

Pizzeria da Nella is located at 1443 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago and 598 E. North Ave. in Carol Stream.

Spaghetti at Bar Ombra
I love when a standard dish gets turned on its head and that’s what happens at this Andersonville restaurant. Wendesday is not Prince spaghetti day here and the noodles don’t come to your table drenched in red sauce. Instead, they’re dressed in olive oil, garlic, parsley and chilis and topped with crispy breadcrumbs, making for a slightly lighter dish that doesn’t lack for flavor yet won’t leave you weighted down should you want to head out and burn some calories. —Chuck Sudo

Bar Ombra is located at 5310 N. Clark St.