What makes a great Italian restaurant? For some it may be the antipasti, while for others it’s the quality of the wines and pastas that’s the sure-fire test. Holding up one dish is dangerous. Octopus? Lasagna? Cacio e pepe? Which one dish should be the barometer of a great Italian restaurant?
The steps we took to compile our most-recent ranking were as thorough and comprehensive as possible: we looked at restaurants that made it to our 101 Best Restaurants in America; we also recruited an illustrious panel of judges that included some of the country’s top food writers, critics, and bloggers to submit their suggestions, which we supplemented with our own choices, including previous years’ rankings as well as lauded newcomers. This list of hundreds of restaurants was then built into a survey that was sent out to more than 100 panelists, who voted for their favorites. The final ranking included a significant number of Italian restaurants, and to create this list we supplemented the Italian restaurants that made it into our final list of 101 with those that came in as runners-up and those that were featured on this year's list of the country's 50 best casual restaurants. Turns out there are many Italian restaurants worthy of renown in America, and two reside in Chicago.
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White brought us the most recent wave of fine Italian dining, Tony Mantuano taught Chicagoans how to enjoy refined Italian fare at Spiaggia. Taking a cue from its name, which means "beach" in Italian, the food is inspired by the coast. Mantuano has won countless accolades for his accomplishments here including the 2005 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest. Chris Marchino took over for longtime executive chef Sarah Grueneberg in 2013 and hasn't skipped a beat, continuing to delight diners with such fare as Pugliese burrata with golden Osetra caviar and potato crisps, squid ink spaghetti with Maine lobster and toasted breadcrumbs, and wood-roasted steelhead trout with honey mussels, black garlic, butter-roasted turnips, and Meyer lemon.
The restaurant underwent a massive redesign in honor of its 30th anniversary in 2013 as well, and upon its completion the Spiagga team unveiled a newly designed dining room, a new location for the bar, and a new lounge area with its own menu.
Spiagga’s coastally-inspired recipes are so delicious, the restaurant snagged the #17 spot on our roundup, beating out Davanti Enoteca, who came in at #34. This means that – according to our experts – Spiagga is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago.