Cucina Paradiso has thrived at 814 North Blvd. for 28 years. The secret, according to owner Anthony Gambino, is attention to detail. Every delicious detail. The menu is a balance between an homage to cozy red-sauce Italian cooking and a forward view of flavors diners are hungry for now.
“We have some main staples that we started with. I could never substitute them with anything because our customers would be upset with us. Then obviously we create those dishes with our unique touches and quality ingredients,” said Gambino.
One dish that’s always on the menu is Rigatoni Bolognese with homemade meat sauce, tomatoes, cream, onions, fresh mozzarella. One of the most popular is a fresh egg noodle pappardelle with tricolor peppers, a light cream sauce and blackened shrimp. Another fresh pasta offering is a giant rigatoni egg noodle with a brandy cream sauce and shiitake, button and cremini mushrooms, spiced with fresh thyme and garlic.
The four seasons drive most changes to the menu. Gambino is proud that they print their menu every day, responding to what is at the height of flavor. Three to four dishes rotate on and off every few weeks. The bounty of summer zucchini is the taste inside cheesy Cucina puffs.
A similar approach is taken at the bar. Gambino credits mixologist Karina Nunez with revising old favorites with fresh ingredients. Try for example their Blackberry Old Fashioned with fresh, muddled blackberries and house-made sage syrup.
Gambino gives credit to his staff, “They are Cucina.”
It’s worth noting that key personnel have been at the restaurant for more than a decade. This includes managers Jeremy Troyer and Kim Rozhik who hold down the fort since the restaurant is open every day of the week.
Chef Mike Bouse executes the tightrope walk between tradition and trends. The pepperoni pizza is an example of how to invent. The current iteration is both spicy and sweet. Gambino describes the pie, “We’re using top ingredients and then drizzling it with a Calabrian chili honey. So that’s where we bring a twist and up the game.”
Gambino says when he started out, he was, “…young, eager, and either extremely determined or very foolish.” The gamble has paid off, with many wins for locals who love to eat.
814 North Blvd. Oak Park
Hours: Everyday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.