When I lived near the intersection of Armitage and California a few years ago, the food options were fairly limited and imbalanced. You could have a high-end foodie meal at Table, Donkey and Stick or grab a hot dog at the Tastee Freez. All of that has changed drastically thanks to restaurants like Ugo’s at 2833 W. Armitage Avenue, which is now part of what some have dubbed “Chicago’s Other Restaurant Row.” The modern Italian restaurant is a casual, welcoming place that presents classic Italian dishes in unique and interesting ways with fresh, local ingredients at surprisingly affordable prices.
Ugo’s doesn’t particularly look like an Italian restaurant; instead, its dark woods and exposed brick give the restaurant more of an old warehouse-industrial feel that’s very appropriate for the neighborhood. And while those style elements are all the rage right now, Ugo’s has quite a bit of detail that help give it an identity all its own.
Deep reds contrast the dark woods and there are playful decorations like a wall of corks or old motorcycle ads adorning the walls atop wood planks. Above the kitchen you’ll notice a variety of non-matching repurposed wood planks and a very cool skylight. Everywhere you look there are fun little details you may miss that also don’t distract or make the restaurant cluttered.
My weeknight dinner was pretty quiet with a warm neighborly vibe. Be advised, though, Ugo’s does stay open till 2 a.m. so this could be your next late night hangout.
Ugo’s has a fully-stocked bar with a huge number of local craft beers, wines, ciders, and a full cocktail list. I visited on a sticky 90 degree day, and the Mezcal Black sounded refreshing. The minimal drink is made with lime, ginger beer, and Del maguey vida mezcal and tastes similar to a Moscow mule, but the mezcal adds a richer, smokier flavor than what you might be used to.
Though this is the first restaurant of head chef/owner Stephen Hasson, his experience at restaurants like Alinea, Wood, and Salero have helped create a menu full of new takes on what you know made with fresh, local ingredients. Here’s what I sampled:
I started with the fried bread snack. This is pizza dough that’s been fried to a crisp and covered in parmesan with hot marinara sauce on the side. It’s seasoned well, not greasy or messy, and a fun casual twist on cheese sticks and the traditional bread serving at an Italian restaurant.
The soft bread topped with a creamy pea spread and sprouts was cooling and refreshing. It was similar to avocado toast, but not as heavy or fatty.
Even if you’re not a kale fan, get the kale Caesar. Easily one of the best salads I’ve ever had– the kale leaves are big, lush, and incredibly fresh. There’s only a slight bitterness to them that’s barely noticeable thanks to the large, tender anchovies that dominate the palette. Honestly, eating this kale salad may have you swearing off lettuce for good.
The appetizer special of the day was made from the day’s farm delivery with asparagus, ramps, poached egg, and slices of parmesan. Despite the prominence of vegetables, the poached egg and parmesan dominate the dish with rich and decadent flavors.
Long, flat pappardelle noodles were popularized here in Chicago at Rosebud, but you haven’t had them like this before. Rather than the typical red meat sauce you might be expecting, the soft and al dente Ugo’s pappardelle was earthy with pesto, nuts, and mushrooms. The pasta dish is quite different and may surprise you at first yet left me really impressed how the restaurant was able to take a classic dish in such a new direction.
One of the big draws for Ugo’s is their Neapolitan-style pizzas that are very thin, crisp, and almost like flatbreads. The menu has red and white pizzas with this bacon pizza in the latter category. I’m generally not into white pizzas because they’re often too dry without the sauce, but the mornay sauce here really does the trick while complimenting the bacon and onions. This wouldn’t normally be a pizza I’d get—like I said, I’m a more traditional pizza eater—but you’re going to really like this if you’re a bacon fan.
The tiramisu here touches on the coffee and chocolate flavors of the traditional tiramisu, but you would never know what that was just by looking at it. Ugo’s version of the classic dessert uses pieces of coffee cake. I’m not really a fan of the traditional mushy tiramisu texture, so I much more enjoyed the firmer, but still soft, coffee cake.
Armitage Avenue in Logan Square is increasingly becoming one of the latest foodie destinations in Chicago. With so many restaurants and bars to pick from, you’re not going to want to miss Ugo’s. The restaurant has pizza and other Italian American foods you know, but have been updated for the adventurous palette. Meanwhile, the restaurant offers a comfortable, local neighborhood vibe with great drinks and prices that allow you to make this a regular dining spot. And even better, this is a gourmet hangout that stays open extra late.
Ugo’s Kitchen & Bar
2833 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60640