Located in Wicker Park, a short walk from the popular stretch of vintage thrift boutiques, used bookstores, and hipster coffee shops, The Pasta Bowl is a food coma waiting to happen. And as an avid lover of Italian food, I mean that in the best way possible.
Upon walking in, you're met with a casual modern interior accented with tastefully upscale decor. The diner-style booths and warm brick walls—lined with a changing display of local artwork for sale—are complemented by dim lighting, sleek dark surfaces, and dark upholstery seats.
The staff is laid-back and will usually invite you to choose your own seat. Your two best options are the chairs at the counter, where the chefs prepare your meal right in front of you, and the window booths. In warmer months, the windows open onto the street, allowing you to people-watch as you eat and inviting passerby to gawk at your food with poorly concealed envy.
The restaurant's balance of class and comfort is equally present in its menu, which offers authentic Italian dishes that will leave your stomach warm and wishing it had room for more.
While this Chicago chain does offer salads and paninis, the real highlight here is the pasta. Served on large plates that border on overwhelming and coated generously in the restaurant's house-made sauces, these dishes are definitely not for the faint of heart.
For your appetizer, try something light that won't fill you up before your entrée arrives. As sad as it is to forgo that four-cheese ravioli tostati, a Caprese salad will leave you satisfied and regret-free.
Far from your average Caesar salad, this classic Italian dish consists of fresh mozzarella slices, tomatoes, olives, and roasted red peppers, all drizzled in extra virgin olive oil. It's simple, refreshing, and leaves you with enough room to enjoy your main course.
When choosing between pasta dishes, don't worry if you don't know your conchiglie from your farfalle. Not only are the staff more than happy to help with your pasta education, the large chalkboard diagram on the wall labels each type of noodle with its proper Italian name and pronunciation.
The Pasta Bowl's signature dish is its Farfalle Pollo: bow-tie pasta bathed in cream sauce, grilled chicken, and mushrooms, topped with basil and Parmesan cheese. My personal favorite so far is the Tortellini Crema. The pasta sauces are rich but not too heavy, and if the amount of food looks intimidating, remember that you can always ask for a to-go box.
As an added bonus, each pasta dish comes with a slice of bread, which is particularly useful when you need to pick up some of that leftover Gorgonzola cream sauce.
If the mere thought of a $15 plate of pasta makes your heart sink, never fear. Their lunch special lets you enjoy any entrée and a drink for the college-student-friendly price of $7.99, and gives you the afternoon to explore the surrounding neighborhood.
So the next time you're craving cheesy, saucy Italian goodness, don't settle for the dining hall's mac and cheese. Escape the Hyde Park bubble. Put on some pants—preferably ones with an elastic waistband—and head over to Wicker Park to indulge yourself in some quality Italian food at The Pasta Bowl.