Chefs call upon the flavors of Rome and Tuscany as they blend tomatoes, garlic, and plentiful herbs into the Italian cuisine of Francesca’s Tavola, part of a Chicago-based family of Francesca’s restaurants graced with positive media attention. Patrons steep in the trattoria ambiance while skewering filet mignon, sea bass, and monkfish on their rapiers. A gluten-free menu pampers palates with quinoa linguine and desserts whose fresh fruit plays over tongues like a salad made from Debussy's sheet music.
In true Chicago form, Slice of Chicago serves a hot italian beef pizza that’s layered with spoonfuls of giardiniera. It’s one of their specialty pies, which just might be the crown jewels of Slice’s menu—other varieties include the Western with barbecue sauce, sausage, bacon, and onion, and a taco pizza with ground beef, jalapeños, and sour cream. The pizzeria goes beyond its culinary namesake to strike a tasty balance between American and Italian favorites with dishes as varied as pork ribs, eggplant parmesan, cajun chicken sandwiches, and tiramisu. Guests can also build custom pasta plates by getting a permit from their local pasta-building commissioner, and then selecting a noodle, sauce, and optional ingredients such as calamari or sun-dried tomatoes.
In 1966, taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli finally became fed up with their stop-and-go lives full of honking horns and rush-hour traffic. So they shut off their engines, handed in their keys, and took root. Along with pal George Loverde, they invested in property just off the bustling Magnificent Mile, but then didn’t know what to do with it. According to a 2004 profile in the Chicago Tribune, they got their direction when someone finally said, “Put pizza in it.”
Though the rest is history, it wasn’t quite easy. Bartoli and Loverde came from Italian and Sicilian backgrounds, but neither knew the key to a good pizza. It wasn’t until they hired Alice Mae Redmond, the woman responsible for the dough at Pizzeria Uno, that the Gino's East Chicagoans know and love was truly born. Although Alice Mae retired back in 1989, the recipe for her flaky, golden deep-dish pizza crust lives on.
Today, Gino’s still stands at its original spot on Michigan and Superior but has also stretched to 10 other city and suburban locations. Whether dining downtown or in St. Charles, customers find Alice Mae’s signature crust piled with mounds of cheese, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, and plenty of fresh toppings—from sausage and pepperoni to jalapeños and ground beef. Hot from the oven, pizzas arrive at tables snuggled inside seasoned deep-dish pans, ready to welcome a fork and knife. Thin-crust varieties are also available for those who don’t know how to work silverware, as is a bounty of sandwiches.
Family recipes from across Italy make every spoonful of sauce and melty morsel of mozzarella at Gianni's Cafe remind you of a happy home. Start your evening with ricotta-stuffed baked eggplant rolls ($9.95). Then, trail teasers with a trinity of customizable pasta: Choose your own noodle, sauce, and ingredients with a Romanesque thumbs up or down. Options include pesto and spicy diablo sauce ($13.95 each), with add-ons such as pine nuts ($2.50) and meatballs ($3.50). For those who would rather not choose what they chews, a house specialty eliminates decision-making. Garlic, white wine, herbs, peas, and potatoes erupt from unpredictable veal vesuvio ($21.95); pollo (most dishes are $17.95) and pesce ($18.95–$31.95) are other protein-packed options. In addition to its post-meridian menu, Gianni's also serves lunch at the Kildeer location (open seven days a week), and Sunday brunch in Palatine (open Tuesday through Sunday).
Specializing in thick, Sicilian–style deep-dish pizza, Jet's has indulged palates since 1978, when the eponymous Jetts brothers opened the first joint in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Crusts buckle under the weight of mozzarella cheese and toppings such as grilled chicken and black olives, accompanied by sides such as hot wings, cinnamon sticks, or Jet's Bread topped with cheese, garlic, and butter. Stacks of meat and veggies pile onto piping-hot subs, and a variety of healthy salads helps to avoid the wrath of the Food Pyramid's ancient golems armed with giant wooden tongs.