Top 5 overrated Italian joints in Chicago

March 17, 2011

I realize today is St. Patrick's Day, but did you also realize that Saturday is St. Joseph's? This Italian day of feasting occurs during Lent and features several seafood courses, if not an entire spread (don't forget the zeppole!) I figured now was as good a time as any to reveal what I believe to be are the Italian joints that get more praise than they deserve. (My Top 5 favorite Italian will appear in this space next Thursday).

1. Rosebud
Enough already. Just because your uncle Vito went here during trade shows and your cousin Angie ate here during prom doesn't make it authentic. Let me ask you this: when was the last time you saw tomato cream vodka sauce in Italy? 1500 W. Taylor St. (among others), 312-942-1117.

2. Gio's
Went here last week after hearing loads of praise for this charming cafe-within-a-corner-grocery store. Had the homemade 8-finger cavatappi, which tasted like undercooked, water-soaked cardboard; the meatball sandwich was similarly lacking in flavor. Didn't see any Italians in the kitchen. 2724 S. Lowe Ave., 312-225-6368.

3. Maggiano's
Melman's masterstroke for the masses (and huge payday from Brinker Int'l), but lowest common denominator "ItalianLand" food for tourists. When the emphasis is on big portions and doggie bags, you know there's a problem. 516 N. Clark St. (including many more nationwide), 312-644-1077.

4. Ristorante Agostino
Great old-school vibe, but few, if any pastas made in-house. Yearround caprese salads and $20 linguine from a box/bag don't inspire confidence. 2817 N. Harlem, 773-745-6464.

5. Mia Francesca's
I went back-and-forth on this one. I used to love the original on Clark Street, when there was just one. Today, the food seems watered-down - again, for the masses, so as not to offend anyone - and there just isn't the same vibrancy; too many other places have surpassed it in terms of bold flavors and scratch cooking (if you live in Northbrook or Arlington Heights, I realize you think I'm crazy, but I'm sorry you have so few options out there). 3311 N. Clark St. (as well as every suburb near Chicago), 773-281-3310.

Honorable mention: La Scarola. Headshots of athletes rarely guarantee high-quality or authenticity (see: Ronny's Steakhouse); who puts "light chipotle sauce" on bowtie pasta? I agree the vibe is lively and fun, but for food, I'll walk a few yards West to one of my favorites...(next week).

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