Hours: Daily 10 AM to 11 PM
Pan-Italian market and upscale food court from celebrichefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich; there are 15 restaurants, bars, and stands.
At 63,000 square feet, the River North version of this pan-Italian market and upscale food court is even more massive than its elder sibling in New York—the one thing it doesn't have is a chill-out room. In lieu of that you could try La Piazza, the wide-open central space meant to evoke an Italian city square. Here you can snack on exceedingly fresh, warm mozzarella as you watch it being made. Pair that with a little thinly sliced prosciutto and a plate of lightly fried, lemon-splashed calamari, octopus, and shrimp, or a selection of fresh raw fish from the crudo bar, and you'll be eating some of the best food Eataly has to offer. Le Verdure also has some appealing dishes—especially, as you might guess based on the name, the vegetables, including a selection of just-warmed green beans, carrots, brussels sprouts, rapini, and zucchini tossed with farro and dressed with a light Nebbiolo vinaigrette. At Il Pesce you'll find seafood prepared Italian style, with minimal fussiness if inconsistent results (broiled razor clams were fat but rubbery and sandy, and an oily seafood soup was unbalanced and overly fishy). Even more disappointing was the dark, meat-centric La Carne (which has its own enclosed dining room), where among other sins an underseasoned strip steak came charred on one side and dull gray on the other, with a mushy border of colorless flesh. Eataly's most consistently popular restaurant is La Pizza & La Pasta—there's almost always a wait. Yet the Neapolitan pizza I tried was a disaster, its entire bottom saturated by tomato sauce, rendered cheese and sausage fat, and water extruded from cooked mushrooms. I had better luck with the pasta, which was near perfect, but even in this case, a local standout like Nellcote has nothing to fear. The bottom line: Eataly is hardly the last word in Italian food in Chicago. Read the full review >>
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You're free to explore the wilderness of Eataly wine in hand—but it's wise to consider the role booze can play in encouraging impulse buying. The price on that prosecco jelly or hazelnut-tuna sauce or Barolo vinegar might not seem too prohibitive after a few glasses of Zamo Rosso 2012. You could bring yourself back down to earth at Birreria, its beer-focused restaurant, which must have been calculated that midwesterners couldn't drink beer without a bratwurst, this one flaccid and loose-skinned. Though the beers include a selection of Italian imports unprecedented in these parts, Birreria's first house-brewed ale, Gina, an IPA brewed with imported thyme, tastes like flat, liquid catnip. —Mike Sula