Little Italy, sometimes called University Village, is a neighborhood on the Near West side of Chicago, just between the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus and the Illinois Medical District. Its Italian-American heritage primarily evident in the Italian-American restaurants of Taylor Street. The neighborhood is home to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame as well as the historic Roman Catholic churches (Our Lady of Pompeii, Notre Dame de Chicago, and Holy Family) are here as well. Over the years, the neighborhood has had waves of urban renewal, starting with the construction of expressways in the 1950s, the development of UIC in the 1960s, the demolition of public housing in the 1990s and 2000s, and redevelopment of Maxwell Street in the 2000s. Despite these changes, Little Italy has survived and continues to thrive with their strong Italian American influence. We’ll start our food tour on the east side of Little Italy, heading west.
Mario’s Italian Lemonade (1068 W. Taylor St.) We’re going to start the tour with dessert because, why not?! Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand is quite popular during the summer months. However there’s usually a long line pretty much whenever they are open! Here, be sure to take notice of the real fruits used to create their popular ices. The lemon ice is the most popular, but you really can’t go wrong with any of their offerings. Once you grab your Italian Ice, let’s cross the street for our next stop…
Al’s Beef (1079 W. Taylor St.) What would an Little Italy food tour be without a good Italian beef sandwich? The place to get one and share is here at Al’s Beef. The history of Al’s goes back to 1938 when Al Ferrari and his family came up with the original idea and recipe for the Italian beef sandwich during the Great Depression. When meat was scarce, they sliced what they had very thin and placed it on thick loaves of Italian bread. Soon the family sold their sandwiches throughout the neighborhood and it wasn’t long before people became fans! The popularity led them to open a storefront on West Taylor Street. So while you’re here, order a sandwich and take a bite out of history!
Scafuri Bakery (1337 W Taylor St) Our next stop is to satisfy our sweet tooth. The Scafuri Bakery has a rich family history originating in Calabria, Italy. Luigi Scafuri immigrated to Chicago in 1901 with his family with a passion for bakeries. In 1904, he opened up Scafuri Bakery and it was an immediate success that became an integral part of the community. During the Great Depression, Luigi was known to give out bread to families. Over the years, Luigi’s family and his generations to follow have continued to contribute to the neighborhood. While here, check out their ‘Daily Bread’ offering of crostini topped with an assortment of sweet deliciousness. And if available, definitely grab a slice (or two) of their popular Lemon Ricotta pound cake!
Piazza DiMaggio (1437 W Taylor St) If it’s a nice day out, you can continue to take in the beauty of Little Italy at the Piazza DiMaggio. A statue of Joe DiMaggio just steps from Taylor Street is set in the quaint courtyard, amidst carefully preened greenery and neighborhood fixtures perched on park benches. The Piazza DiMaggio is a gift from the City of Chicago to the Little Italy neighborhood in 1998 to celebrate the neighborhood’s strong Italian immigrant community, rich sports heritage and support system.
Conte di Savoia (1438 W Taylor St) What’s an Italian neighborhood without a good deli? Our next stop is Conte di Savoia where you can find fresh bread, deli meats, wine, olives and all the necessities of a good Italian deli. Since 1948, Conte Di Savoia in Little Italy has also been serving up incredible sandwiches and salads. It’s a great spot to create a picnic basket with bread, cheese, salami and wine, or a fresh mozzarella sandwich with Italian roasted red pepper and watercress. Conte Di Savoia has been family-owned for more than 50 years, and probably anything you need for the kitchen from Italy will be here.
The Rosebud (1500 W. Taylor St) Originally called Bocciola della Rosa (bud of the rose), after Sicily’s native flower, the name was translated into English after it was discovered that patrons had a difficult time pronouncing it. Signature dishes, such as Chicken Vesuvio and Pappardelle (square noodles) were introduced in huge portions, and soon became extremely popular! Rosebud became a favorite of celebrities from Robert DeNiro and Tony Bennett to Frank Sinatra, not to mention Carol Burnett, Robert Redford and Jimmy Buffett. Naturally, a gallery of autographed photos was quickly created (and continues to grow) for all to see. Here’s where you can enjoy a fuller meal and we recommend the Brick Chicken (a boneless whole chicken that’s pressed and roasted crisp, then served in a lemon butter oregano sauce with sautéed broccolini) or their Rigatoni alla Vodka!
Pompei (1531 W. Taylor St) Our last stop isn’t one to necessary eat at, especially after that amazing meal at Rosebud. But instead, cross the street and check out Pompei. They offer some great items for dine in or take out. May we suggest grabbing their popular pizza strudel to go? They make for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner item and you can’t go wrong with any of their baked goods!
And that concludes our Chicago Little Italy Food Tour. Be sure to check out our full list of self guided Chicago tours as well as more food tour options. You can also take a look at our self guide tours of Little Italy in Manhattan and Little Italy in Boston.