The 11 Best Old School Pasta Spots Around Chicago
By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 8, 2016 6:48PM
By Jennifer Olvera
Chicago has its fair share of buzz-worthy dining. However, there’s nothing—and I mean nothing—like a traditional, stick-to-your-ribs bowl of pasta. Fortunately, the city is filled with longstanding, beloved mom and pop spots — the kind with red-checked tablecloths, free-flowing Chianti and servers who treat you and yours like long lost relatives.
So, clear some space in your tummy and get get ready to feel the amore at these forever-faves. And don't forget—this list is our opinion. If we missed one of your favorites, please comment to let us know!
photo via Club Lago
You’ll feel like part of the famiglia when dining at Club Lago, a’50s-era River North joint that’s frequented for its authentic, unpretentious Old World Italian fare, including mounds of red sauced pasta, chicken Vesuvio and excellent eggplant Parm. The welcoming setting and first-name-basis service only ups the appeal.
Club Lago is at 331 W. Superior St.
Expect heaping portions of Italian comfort food classics — spaghetti and meatballs, meaty lasagna blanketed in cheese and other essentials like fried calamari and sausage and peppers — at La Scarola, a lively, crowded and ever-packed River North institution. Then again, the hearty escarole and bean-laden pasta e fagioli soups are not to be missed.
La Scarola is at 721 W. Grand Ave.
Photo via Francesco's Hole in the Wall
Francesco’s Hole in the Wall
Francesco’s Hole in the Wall is a rustic, charming North Shore option for real-deal Italian eats, one where a handwritten chalkboard menu tempts with the likes of toothsome rigatoni topped with Italian sausage-stippled tomato sauce. Not to be overlooked: the fire-roasted artichokes and osso buco, when available. Finish your meal at this intimate spot with an order of warm butter cake. And remember to plan accordingly, as the popular haunt has a no-reservations policy.
Francesco’s Hole in the Wall is at 254 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook.
Sabatino’s low lighting, romantic, reserve-ahead booths and live piano music—not to mention solid, traditional Italian lineup—has all the makings of a great date, one that might begin with burrata and prosciutto salad or wisps of salty, air-dried bresaola atop arugula, followed by house-made gnocchi crowned with meat sauce. Or chicken Marsala. Or veal saltimbocca. Finish with cannoli, tiramisu, baked Alaska or a flambé for two.
Sabatino’s is at 4441 W. Irving Park Rd.
Photo via Italian Village
Italian Village, a trio of Italian eateries, has been dishing up special occasion eats from the proverbial boot to great acclaim since 1927. Touting itself as the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago, it features cavernous, cellar-like La Cantina; modern Vivere on the main floor; and Tuscan-inspired The Village on the upper level, with its private booths and twinkling “skies.” Whichever location you choose, count on the pasta being top-notch. Add in a 1,100 selection-strong wine list and the reason for its unwavering following is clear.
Italian Village is at 71 W. Monroe St.
Photo via Bruna's
A mainstay since 1933, the small, mural-lined Bruna’s Ristorante in Little Village does many things right: for starters, cheesy lasagna, humble-but-mighty carbonara and — as a splurge — Dover Sole, deboned before your eyes. Consider coming for Sunday supper, when legendary roast chicken is served.
Bruna’s Ristorante is at 2424 S. Oakley Ave.
On the scene in Little Italy since 1930, Tufano’s exudes a throwback vibe with welcoming, old-school service to match. Whether you settle on stuffed shells, standout lemon chicken or a massive plate of fried calamari, know it will be expertly executed and dispensed with a smile. Just remember to bring cash since credit cards aren’t accepted here.
Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap is at 1073 W Vernon Park Pl.
Chicken Eggplant Romana over Pasta via Bacchanalia
Perched in the Heart of Italy neighborhood, family-owned, cash-only Bacchanalia—named for the Roman festivals of Bacchus—has dished up Old Country edibles to loyalists since the ’70s. Things you should make a beeline for? The oven-baked pizza bread, tender gnocchi swathed in vodka sauce and veal scallopini. Of course, there’s nary a miss on the point-and-pick menu of standards.
Bacchanalia is at 2413 S Oakley Ave.
A must-stop for Sicilian fare on Taylor Street, crowd-pleaser RoSal’s has garnered a following for its from-scratch approach. That includes everything from breadcrumb-laced fried spaghetti to goat cheese-stuffed ravioli in artichoke-lemon cream or creamy Gorgonzola sauce. Still, it’s hard to pass by the other menu options, be it veal smothered in rich mushroom gravy, linguine in clam sauce or chicken cacciatore.
RoSal’s is at 1154 W Taylor St.
With more than a century of expertise under its belt, Original Ferrara Bakery knows how to sate a sweet tooth. Craving cannoli cake, out of this world baba rhum or fancy butter cookies dipped in chocolate? They’ve got you covered. Nevertheless, the rigatoni Bolognese and simple spaghetti topped with marinara seem special, too.
Original Ferrara Bakery is at 2210 W. Taylor St.
Corner grocer and preparer of Italian fare extraordinaire, Freddy’s Pizza is seriously special. Bring a fistful of cash and queue up to the counter—it’s there you select from a lineup of prepared dishes, such as meltingly tender gnocchi in vodka sauce and ravioli in rich cherry tomato sauce—as well as a changing array of salads, real-deal sheet pan pizza, the best subs around and killer gelato. Then, be sure to grab some house-made pasta and sauces from the freezer for a rainy day.
Freddy’s Pizza is at 1600 S. 61st Ave., Cicero