In May, we challenged our readers to build a six-pack from scratch in 30 days. Today, we present that challenge’s spiritual opposite: a list of the seven best pasta dishes in Chicago, which could conceivably double as a guide to unbuilding a six-pack in 30 days.
Look, if you’re gonna indulge, now’s the time to do it. And as you’ll learn from our list, which runs the gamut from bucatini to agnolotti to a devastating cacio e pepe, Chicago is absolutely the place to do it.
The Restaurant: Monteverde
The Dish: Cacio Whey Pepe
What Makes it So Damn Good: You’re bound to find cacio e pepe on menus across the city, but Monteverde was a trailblazer with its offering and we’ve yet to find a better version. Al dente bucatini is tossed with pecorino Romano, ricotta whey and a four-peppercorn blend. Who knew cheese and pepper could combine to form such a decadent, dynamic dish? Order two.
1020 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607
The Restaurant: Free Rein
The Dish: Saffron Spaghetti
What Makes It So Damn Good: Free Rein’s Saffron Spaghetti is strikingly beautiful on the plate, thanks to eye-popping saffron and an uni sauce. The pasta is enveloped in the pleasantly funky sauce and accompanied by blistered tomatoes, edible flowers and an herb gremolata for a hint of crunch.
224 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60601
The Restaurant: RPM Italian
The Dish: Mama DePandi’s Bucatini
What Makes it So Damn Good: Family recipes get passed down for a reason, and Mama DePandi's Bucatini is crafted with the kind of dependable excellence that only comes with decades of experience. Housemade semolina bucatini is cooked to order then tossed with a pomodoro sauce made of tomato, roasted garlic, onions and a dash of chili flakes. The dish is then finished with Genovese basil, chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s a lesson in thorough pasta preparation, with no detail overlooked.
52 W. Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654
The Restaurant: Maple & Ash
The Dish: Ricotta Agnolotti
What Makes It So Damn Good: These “pillows of love” are stuffed with ricotta and tossed with winter truffle. Order it as an a la carte dish, or ask for the “pasta back” with a fire-roasted seafood tower. They’ll toss the pasta in the buttery seafood remnants of your ritzy seafood tower. Trust us, it’s delicious.
8 W Maple St, Chicago, IL 60610
The Restaurant: Formento’s
The Dish: Bucatini
What Makes It So Damn Good: This is pasta porn at its finest. Think carbonara reimagined: a healthy portion of toothy bucatini with a perfectly runny egg, crispy pancetta and fresh cracked black pepper. It’s also offered on the brunch and dinner menus, so you’ll have ample opportunity to try it (they also deliver).
925 W. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607
The Restaurant: Osteria Langhe
The Dish: Plin
What Makes It So Damn Good: These four simple ingredients certainly pack a punch of richness: hand-pinched ravioli, la tur cheese, thyme and butter. Think of plin as the pasta world’s answer to Gushers: the little pillows literally burst in your mouth with every bite.
2824 West Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL, 60647
The Restaurant: Momotaro
The Dish: Mentaiko Spaghetti
What Makes It So Damn Good: You wouldn’t expect to find a killer spaghetti dish at a Japanese restaurant, which is part of the appeal of Momotaro’s Mentaiko Spaghetti. Homemade spaghetti is covered with a runny egg, spicy cod roe and bonito flakes. The result is a creamy, salty pile of Japanese comfort food, and one you’ll come back for again and again.
820 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60607
Images via their respective restaurants, main image via RPM Italian