Best Old-School Italian Place to Take Out-of-Towners

La Scarola

Critics' Picks

Say your parents and in-laws, combined, are 50 percent Italian. Generally speaking, that means they want to eat Italian half the time. It also means they expect it to be good—you know, nonna good—as determined by the preparation of the red sauce (the first topic of conversation raised by my mother upon meeting any other soul with Italian blood) and the authenticity of the meatballs (like, there better be pignolis and raisins in there if your people claim to be from Naples). All of which means that if the four of them are visiting Chicago at once, you take them to La Scarola—twice. It's cozy and kitschy and cramped (and packed; make a reservation—for 5:30). As the name suggests, it offers a lovely side of sauteed escarole, as well the requisite escarole soup. But the star of the show is the perfect—and believe me, in this crowd "perfection" is not used lightly—pasta e fagioli. It's creamy and sharp, the pasta and the cannellini just al dente enough, the kick of acid from tomato and wine expertly cutting through the cheese and carbs. Both moms will be proud.