From its South Loop location, Gioco serves authentic Italian food in an atmosphere teeming with gangster history. This 1890s brick building was once a speakeasy in Chicago’s red-light district; the original cooler and walk-in safe lend credibility to local lore that Al Capone, George “Bugs” Moran and Frank Nitti used to frequent the place.
These days, chef Gaetano Ascione cooks his native Italian cuisine within an open kitchen overlooking the dining room with crumbling plaster walls decorated with 1920s graffiti and figure drawings. Ascione and his white-uniformed brigade speak to each other in Italian as they prepare succulent Adriatic seafood dishes like branzino with puttanesca sauce ($29). The menu includes rustic pastas and risottos ($12 to $16) and meaty entrees along the lines of scalloppine ($28) and sausages with peppers ($21).
Meals here are not cheap—dinner for two with wine tops out at around $100. For more wallet-friendly options, stop in at lunch and order the chunky minestrone ($6) and a heaping bowl of tender mussels in light, garlicky broth ($9). The thin-crust wood-fired pizzas ($10 to $14) adorned with simple, fresh toppings are also a good bet; we like the margherita. Finish things off with a frothy cappuccino and warm, caramel-topped chocolate cake ($9).