From left: The old style of Osteria Ottimo; Ottimo’s giant meatball; Tiny Lounge’s Prince Edward Island mussels
We’ve heard countless restaurateurs over the years say they’re going to open something “the way it really is in Italy.” But when it’s proven veterans like Scott Harris (Mia Francesca) and Patrick Concannon (Don Juan’s) doing the talking, we’ll bite. Their new 130-seat spot in the south suburbs, full of old barn wood and white mosaic tile, will be “true to the way Italians eat out in the cities and towns,” says Concannon. Ottimo’s menu won’t stray far from the familiar: meatballs, baked clams, sausage and peppers—100 percent old-fashioned Italian grandmother cooking. And the open kitchen features an antique Berkel slicer, which Concannon says gives his prosciutto a paper-thin precision. 16111 S. La Grange Rd., Orland Park; 708-403-3366.
There’s something to be said for a modest, comfortable neighborhood spot that serves up tasty Mexican food at reasonable prices, and we’re going to say it: At Los Nopales, you can eat a little or a lot and go home completely satisfied. Order excellent guacamole ($6.95) before you fill up on the complimentary chips and salsa; it’s chunky, fresh, and great to share while pondering your next move. We’re also fans of the tortilla soup ($4.95), rich with chicken, avocado, and sour cream. Beyond that, you can’t go wrong with the sopes dinner ($8.95), two light-textured masa rounds with a choice of toppings—three meat, two vegetarian—sided with rice and beans (mini sopes are also available as an appetizer; $5.95). Classic tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and other casual fare are reliable choices, but keep an ear out for more ambitious daily specials; on a recent visit we enjoyed four plump, perfectly grilled sea scallops with a yummy chipotle cream sauce and rice for $14.95. Finish with homemade flan ($3.50) or a creamy licuado shake made with fresh fruit. BYO, and drink it under the strings of colorful chili pepper lights. 4544 N. Western Ave.; 773-334-3149.
After a two-year absence, North Center’s legendary Tiny Lounge has taken its cocktail shakers to Lincoln Square. Its new incarnation includes some not-so-tiny changes: an expanded wine list, wider beer selection, and—yes—food. Tara Pietroniro, a veteran of The Fat Duck in Bray, England, crafts “atypical small plates” such as steamed Prince Edward Island mussels and surf and turf tacos to complement the lounge’s beloved mixed drinks. And new libations like a pisco sour and a batida, a traditional Brazilian concoction of coconut milk, blueberries, and cachaça (Brazilian rum), carry on the cocktail culture, too. We’ll drink to that. 4352 N. Leavitt St.; 773-463-0396.
Ristorante al Teatro
“It’s a parade of flavors that you are going to fall in love with right away,” the chef, Gianni Zonca, told us when he first described Al Teatro’s menu. (He also said, “Give me flour and I can build a mountain,” when he was set to open La Madia in 2007.) If Zonca cooks half as well as he talks, we’re in for good things at Al Teatro, the new 200-seat restaurant in Pilsen’s recently restored Thalia Hall. An extensive roster of wood-burning pizza, pasta, and old Italian recipes will share the dramatic two-story space with 24 flavors of homemade gelato and a mysteriously secret coffee blend. 1227 W. 18th St.; 312-379-3984.
Photography: Anna Knott