Chef Chris Pandel’s housemade pastas and pizza take center stage at this Lincoln Park eatery, in a setting as inviting, rustic, and refined as the fare.
“Yes, the pizzas are terrific, tantalizingly thin but with puffy, oil-glossed, satisfyingly chewy edges. I could eat the spicy-sausage version, or the mortadella-pistachio-onion combo, every day. But the pastas are sensational too. And the desserts — dear Lord, the desserts.” – Chicago Tribune
“…I can’t remember the last restaurant I’ve so looked forward to returning to. I’m going back for the mackerel, smoked to impart a compelling meatiness and paired with a soft-cooked egg, bread crumbs and aioli. I couldn’t pass up the whole-roasted fish, crisp skin revealing moist flesh, topped with an inspired peanut gremolata that sets it apart from any competitor. The menu is more or less Italian, yet it somehow works that Pandel serves Korean-style short ribs, pounded thin and brilliantly played against strips of candied orange peel. The crust on the pizza has just the right chew, and the chili oil that comes with the mortadella pie should be required of every pizzeria.” – Time Out
“In just a few short years, Balena has become a fixture on the Chicago dining scene, and not just because of its neon light installations that manage to blend seamlessly with the elegance of the soaring, exposed beam ceilings and leather-topped bar. Speaking of that bar, it's where they'll be making you a spot-on cocktail from their amaro-heavy menu (conveniently ranked from 1 to 10 on bitterness level). Now that you've had your aperitivo, it's time to eat. May we recommend ALL the pasta? Everything's made in-house, even the dried stuff, meaning everything–from a simple spaghetti cacio e pepe to the ocean-rich squid inked tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin, and chili—is stunning. As are the pizzas. But try to leave yourself room for an affogato with fluffy cinnamon-sugar donuts.” – Thrillist
Located across from the Steppenwolf and Royal George theaters, the lofty space, remodeled by 555 International, is elegant and inviting. A mix of earthy elements (rustic plaster walls and hand-crafted lights) and refined touches (a custom speedometer-inspired clock and bar wrapped in saddle-stitched leather), the aesthetic reflects Chef Pandel’s Italian-inspired craft cooking style. Warm woods and painted tiles complete the look.
1633 N. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614