-Grubbing in ChicagoNew School Italian Food on the NW Side
Over the last five years or so the Italian food in Chicago has gotten extraordinarily better. From an outsiders view looking in Chicago has always been a great town for Italian food. Yes and no. Great for Italian beef which is really more of a Chicago thing (by way of Italians) and also both tavern thin and deep dish pizza (same thing). There's a few red sauce spots here and there but most of them are well past their prime. The new wave of places is offering more regionally focused food, pizza of all varieties, and pasta crafted by passionate pasta people and not just those looking for something with a good profit margin. Today's featured place describes itself as a purveyor of Italian Street Food but to me it feels like an updated version of the neighborhood Italian places that are fading away fast.
Locals favorite in Chicago / Norridge
Cucina 3's location puts it in Chicago on the map but Norridge is basically across the street. The entire strip of Harlem up here is filled with Italian food purveyors such as Forno Rosso Pizzeria. The owners of the Neapolitan Pizzeria that also has a West Loop location are the owners of Cucina 3. It opened a little over a year ago. It's location in the corner of the city means it's relatively unknown outside the area. Though from what I could tell on my three visits they have a gang of regulars. Everyone seemed to know each other and now they all know me. The menu breaks down into quite a few sections hence my comparison to the old red sauce type spots. They got something for everyone. No pizza but they do make panzerotti which is the famous Italian style turnover (empanada like in prep though not in size) most popular in Southern Italy. They also got the Chicago style fried shrimp. I call it Chicago style bc they use a heavy batter which isn't my favorite but I still enjoy them.
Gulf Fried Shrimp at Cucina 3
I've only gotten to try one sandwich but it was good enough to where I'll be trying a few more as the days go by. Their chicken milanese is outstanding from the fresh lightly breaded chicken cutlet to the fresh Mighty Vine tomatoes and made in-house fries. I'm not sure where they get their bread but with so many Italian bakeries out this way it's not surprising to find it work so well. I usually don't pine for a chicken sandwich but this is one I've wished was closer since I first had it. Really well made. Same goes for the salads. No picture but I picked up dinner from here once and we got a chopped salad that was a good prelude to an order of pasta and some bakery sheet pizza from next door.
Chicken Milanese at Cucina 3
The pasta portion of the menu includes two sections. There's the house-made pasta which has a handful of classics like spaghetti alla carbonara and Gnocchetti con Pesto. Our favorite offering is the Orecchiette served with Italian sausage, rapini, peperoncino, pecorino. It's a simple pasta (all the good ones are) but not something I've been able to mimic at home just yet. They make really well rounded pasta dishes here. Sometimes at home I find myself wondering what I'm missing and honestly it's most likely the fact pasta taste better from restaurants (that know what they're doing) bc they have a wonderful silky emulsion of water that's constantly cooking the pasta. It tastes better.
On one trip we ate outside on the small patio in the middle of the strip mall parking lot. I'd overheard a regular contemplating trying something new or going with his standard order of "the best baked ziti there is." This convinced me to try it as it is also listed as one of the house specials. He gave me a good rec but sometimes I forget I make a really wonderful baked ziti myself and I like it a certain way so it's hard for me to find better. Though if you don't want to make it at home Cucina 3 offers a good version with lots of sausage and baked mozzarella. If you're ever out this way make it a point to stop here.
Baked Ziti at Cucina 3
4630 N Cumberland Ave Suite 1
Chicago, IL 60656