Great pasta and pizza is always in fashion, and Chicago would not be the same without Italian beef sandwiches. But as chefs tease out regional stylings (think Bolognese or Sicilian), Chicagoans are now able to embrace a more inclusive sort of Italian food. The best Italian in Chicago still includes classic dishes—and plenty of parm!—but new dishes are catching on, making Italian catering in Chicago just that much more interesting and enjoyable. So grab a spoon or your preferred twirling device and dive into the best Italian in Chicago.
Italian cuisine has long been influenced by its Mediterranean neighbors and at Catering Made Simple in the Chicago area, the popular Mediterranean lunch special includes kabobs with sides of rice pilaf and Greek salad and potatoes. But Italian food may be most synonymous with tomatoes and chicken Parmesan, topped with marinara and moz and served with a side of pasta. It’s comfort food 101. Though they sound multi-culti, Italian beef eggrolls are stuffed with giardiniera and mozzarella. Stuffed with cornmeal, tamales are polenta reformed as a Mex-Itali mash-up.
The best Italian catering in Chicago includes pasta ridged so the sauce clings just so. The homemade rigatoni à la vodka at Capri Express is wide tubes of pasta perfectly sauced with the pink-hued sauce. It is insanely popular for a reason. Sautéed with lemon sauce, chicken francese is a pan-fried cutlet that partners beautifully with pasta or salad. Add an eggplant roll or bruschetta calabrese appetizer for some southern Italian style and a side of Mayor Mickey’s Famous Veggies and voila!—something for everyone is on the table.
With salami, mozzarella, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, pepperoni, artichokes, and cherry tomatoes, the antipasto skewers make a fun presentation and are as zesty as they are hearty. Farfalle pollo, one of the many pastas available on the $12 for 5 menu, is by far the most popular item at the Pasta Bowl. Grilled chicken and bowtie pasta are tossed with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes and just enough basil cream sauce to coat the noodles. Toss in some of the leaves from the accompanying spinach or Caesar salad and make it a one-of-a-kind group dining experience.
Around since the days of Al Capone (2018 marks the restaurant’s 80th anniversary in business), Al’s Italian Beef and Catering knows its Italian beef. Its Italian beef tray, served with hot and sweet peppers, chugs on as a best seller. Equally popular and similarly accessorized is the char-grilled Italian sausage tray. Should your needs be less gluten-full or meaty, Al’s Old Chicago Chop Salad, loaded with greens, chicken, gorgonzola and tomatoes, makes a fine entrée. Try it with a side of Taylor Street garlic parmesan potatoes for a taste of Little Italy.
Because this is Lindy’s Chili, an order of chili, with or without beans and mac is a must. The chili, available as a topping on almost everything on the menu, might be best enjoyed over pasta but the chili cheese dog might be what put hot dogs on the map of best Italian in Chicago. On the Gertie’s Ice Cream side of the menu, the old-fashioned banana split, laced with lime and cherry syrup and topped with whipped cream and nuts, is as good now as when Gertie’s first opened in 1901. Some things never change. (And that’s a good thing.)
With a focus on the cuisine of northern Italy, polenta, that iconic dish of Italy’s Piedmont region, is a menu star. The namesake special, the polenta bar special, includes grilled polenta and enough grilled chicken, zucchini, and peppers to fuel your crew. This comes alongside sautéed carrots and mushrooms, as well as two spicy sauces and green salad. Bonus: it is entirely gluten-free. Gluten-free pasta is a standard option and the meatless version of the namesake dish, the Polenta Vegan, is also popular. There are even polenta bowls, riffing Italian style on the Asian trend. It is entirely vegetarian.
Baked mostaccioli with meat sauce and mozzarella is a classic dish of Italian-American comfort food. Or, try the pasticcio, the Italian version of meatloaf casserole. Other dishes skew Greek. Add chicken to the Greek salad, or the Caesar, for a hearty entrée or try the pre-portioned spinach and feta pies. The Greek accents continue into the dessert section of the menu where flaky baklava and the honeyed dumplings known as loukoumades make a standout dessert option.
The menu skews global at Chic Chef Catering where stuffed mushrooms with ricotta and spinach sit cheek by jowl with Indo-Chinese spiced chicken lollipops. But sample the pasta with meatballs or chicken marsala with mushrooms as a reminder that Italian catering in Chicago only gets better when it sings an international tune.
Want to eat Italian in Chicago without the carbs? The Big Ragu salad has got your number. Mixed greens with salami, capicola, baked ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, provolone, and tomatoes, it is a carb-avoider’s dream salad. But the baked lasagna is what Italian catering in Chicago is all about—hot pasta slathered in red sauce and gooey cheese. Yeah, it’s all that.
A story about the best Italian in Chicago must include pizza and Rosati’s fits the bill. Serving deep-dish pies topped with anything from eggplant to Italian beef (it’s a Chicago thing), the pies are 18 inches and can be ordered ten at a time. Extra sides of Italian beef and hot giardiniera are also available. Don’t forget the cannoli.