The Best Antipasti Dishes in Chicago
When most diners envision summery, warm-weather eating and drinking in Chicago, they think of ice cream, hamburgers, barbecue and lobster rolls. But really, one of the ultimate warm-weather dining traditions is an Italian one. Antipasti is about as refreshing and vibrant as it gets, celebrating seasonal ingredients, Italian inspirations and chilled preparations in perfect harmony. Everything from cured meats and crudos to fresh vegetables and cheese are all fair game, making it the ultimate crowd-pleaser. From classic Italian joints to newfangled interpretations, here’s where to satisfy your antipasti cravings in Chicago this summer.
Coco Pazzo: One of Chicago’s foremost Italian standbys is also one of the best destinations for antipasti at its most pristine. Options really run the gamut, affording a slew of inventive snacks to sample before progressing into heartier pastas, meats and seafood. The baked eggplant and zucchini with smoked scamorza is a hit, as is the fried polenta with wood-roasted mushrooms, sunchoke sauce and black truffles. For a unique twist on a classic, try the chicken liver pate, here served with carrot marmalade and panforte gelatin.
Nico Osteria: Another apt go-to for new-school antipasti is this glam Gold Coast stunner. Fiercely seasonal, with a penchant both for local sourcing and seafood, Nico features wholly original snacks like radish carpaccio with toasted nori butter and soft herbs; Brussels sprouts bruschetta with stracciatella cheese and lemon honey; Burrata with seaweed and black lime; sardines with onion-currant agro-dolce and pine nuts; and charred octopus with fennel savoro and preserved Meyer lemon. Each and every dish is as lustrous and photogenic as it is fresh.
Siena Tavern: It’s all about the coccoli at this River North people-pleaser. Fun, irreverent and comforting antipasti are the name of the game, and no dish exemplifies that quite like the signature coccoli, a crispy dough with stracchino chese, prosciutto di parma and truffle honey. The Wagyu beef meatball is another standout — so popular it’s got its own Twitter handle. The giant meatball comes with roasted tomato sauce, ricotta and shaved basil.
Piccolo Sogno: The best way to celebrate summer is by tucking into shareable antipasti platters on Piccolo Sogno’s enchanting patio. Gather around with friends and savor vibrant dishes like grilled octopus with chickpea-olive oil puree; prosciutto with fresh melon; asparagus with Parmesan cream and wood-roasted egg; roasted oyster mushrooms with house-cured pancetta and aged balsamic; and Burrata with artisan-style prosciutto. Wash it all down with any number of crisp Italian wines and call it a day.
Osteria Langhe: One of Chicago’s quintessential neighborhood restaurants, this rustic Logan Square haunt is an ideal spot to graze on small plates with a date or small group of friends. And you’ll definitely want to graze your way through Osteria Langhe’s sampling of antipasti, which includes the likes of wild mushroom and Gorgonzola quiche with leek cream and chicken sausage; anchovy and garlic fonduta with grilled brococli and fontina grilled cheese; pepperoni tonnato with roasted peppers and tuna citrus caper aïoli; and raw and poached Piemontese beef with crispy egg and grilled bread.
Ballaro: Head to Highwood and get ready to feast, because each and every dish on Ballaro’s starter section is worth saving room for, not to mention the selections of pizza, housemade pasta and entrees to follow. But first: scallops come with Sicilian tomato pesto and fennel puree, while broccoli and feta salads are outfitted with fire-roasted shishito peppers and golden raisins. Meanwhile, eggplant gets a sweet and savory accent from Calabrian chile sauce and honeycomb, and chicken liver crostini comes with pear preserves and pickled mustard seeds.
Formento’s: This is probably the only Italian restaurant where appetizer snacks include fried chicken and avocado toast, but it’s part of what sets this West Loop gem apart from the Italian pack. Courtesy of dexterous chef Todd Stein, Formento’s abundant starters include fried chicken with Italian herbs and spicy honey, blistered shishito peppers with saffron aïoli and garlic breadcrumbs, avocado toast with lump crab, mussels with pancetta cream, grilled whole artichokes with lemon-herb butter and wood-grilled prawns with fennel pollen.