If you plan to run insanely long distances this weekend or just watch racers zoom along the streets, nothing beats a big bowl of pasta to help make the Chicago Marathon experience more enjoyable. Fortunately, there are many wonderful places near the race route to grab great Italian food.
Nestled near the hustle of Michigan Avenue is Pane Caldo (72 East Walton Street), an upscale spot that delivers quality pasta in a timeless setting. The restaurant has a quiet, even reserved atmosphere that will help runners get into a race mindset while at the same time satisfying cravings for standards like bruschetta, tortelloni and gnocchi. If the price point is too much for you, consider trying them for lunch to take advantage of their daily specials.
Volare (201 E Grand Ave.) is more affordable and the portions are larger -- key points for budget-conscious racers. It's usually a busy spot, so give yourself plenty of time to get a table and eat. The lasagna is pure, homemade comfort food and the penne vodka is tasty and filling. If you make it to dessert, you'll find the tiramisu to be as generously portioned as the rest of the meal.
Mario's Gold Coast Ristorante (21 W Goethe St.) is a great neighborhood spot to load up before the race -- it's warm and casual with reasonable prices. You can get most pasta dishes as half orders, but it's worth a full serving of the outstanding pasta primavera for a active day of pounding pavement. I'd also save room for the house-made cannoli, sprinkled with chocolate and pistachios.
The list of great Italian places in the city is probably longer than the marathon itself, so think of this as a starting point -- particularly if you're in and near downtown. The best of luck to everyone racing in the Chicago Marathon!