Tufano’s feels refreshingly different from other classic Italian-American restaurants. It’s bright, airy, and cafe-like. As advertised, it’s practically in a park. The menu and specials are written on a chalk board, not on floppy sauce-stained laminated menus. The prices also are more akin to a panini cafe than a traditional red-sauce supper club. Surprisingly, the portions are still appropriately family sized, and the ingredients are high-quality. It’s not a compromise. It’s a steal!
Tufano’s has been open since 1930 at this location, and it is still operated by the same family.
Salads and pastas are fresh and abundant. The small Tufano’s Salad is an antipasti of salami, provolone, red peppers, olives and artichokes, with a bit of extra green. It could be a meal in itself. Lots of fresh tomatoes, red onions, and a light dressing keep it summery. Maybe it’s the large patio or the park setting, but this place seemed like the perfect version of red-sauce Italian for those precious warm months in Chicago.
Linguini with White Clam Sauce comes blanketed with chopped up shellfish dressed simply with white wine and butter. The portion is especially generous even if you get a half-order.
The iconic dish here is Lemon Chicken with Potatoes, which straddles Italian and Greek influences to create something original. The bird is moist and redolent of lemon with flavor deeply infused into the meat. Crispy potato slices help mop up lemony oils and juices from the chicken.
For those wanting actual red sauce Italian, the marinara here — like the rest of the dishes that we’ve tried — is a light, fresh interpretation. It taste like garden tomatoes and adds appropriate zip to tender meatballs and sausage. Whether you do as we did and get sides of the meatball and sausage, or you make them the centerpiece of a meal, do try some. The spicy, juicy sausage especially stands out. Every fork-tender bite adds meat juice to the zesty red sauce, making the plate even more magnetic for fresh, crusty bread.
Tufano’s is cash only, but that’s just because little has changed over the decades. The wine is still cheap. There is still a free valet to help with parking, and a charming staff of family (and practically family) to help with everything else.