After more than three decades of serving red-sauce Italian hits along Grand Avenue, a family-owned restaurant stalwart is beginning an emotional new chapter in West Town. Oggi Trattoria, owned by the Padilla family since its founding in the 1990s, completed its move with a Friday, April 21 debut in a new space at 1461 W. Chicago Avenue.
In addition to the usual excitement over the newly constructed dining room and kitchen, the move has special meaning for the family, whose patriarch Samuel Padilla immigrated from Mexico to West Town as a young teen in the 1970s. He and wife Luz Padilla built their lives and raised their sons, Sam and Isaac, in the neighborhood until the early 2000s when they were priced out of the neighborhood.
“It’s kind of like my ‘I-made-it moment — our coronation, if you will,’” says Sam Padilla, now executive chef at Oggi Trattoria. “It sounds a little corny, but at one point we were too poor to live in this neighborhood and now we have this beautiful building we can share with our customers.”
Workers gutted the Chicago Avenue building to create a 1,300 square-foot restaurant that seats 80, outfitted with a custom-made wooden bar lined with brass stools. But the focal point is undoubtedly lushly illustrated original wallpaper from local design studio Urban Source which portrays a dreamlike garden wonderland where icons like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra frolic among the flowers. A pithy, years-old review once described the Grand Avenue restaurant as an Italian grandmother’s basement in the 1980s. “Now we have our brand new space,” Sam Padilla says, laughing. “We got out of nonna’s basement.”
In contrast, the menu remains largely unchanged with a selection of pastas, thin-crust pizzas, and reliable hits such as veal parmigiana, baked clams, and chicken Vesuvio. But Sam Padilla has also introduced two new options: a cauliflower crust pizza and a chicken parmigiana “pizza” built atop a piece of poultry, the indulgent brainchild of Isaac Padilla, who runs the restaurant’s front-of-house. The brothers also plan to reflect seasonal changes in the menu (they’ll emphasize seafood over the summer) and offer more specials.
The Padilla’s connection to Italian cuisine traces back the Como Inn, a legendary restaurant complex of 14 dining rooms that reigned for 77 years at 546 N. Milwaukee Avenue until its closure in 2001. That was where founder Samuel Padilla found his first job in the U.S., and over the years served stars including Andrea Bocelli and Michael Jordan. Along the way, he learned as much as he could about Italy’s language and cuisine, accumulating skills that would go on to serve his family well.
Working alongside family members can prove challenging, and Sam Padilla readily admits to spirited debates with his brother about the business. But both Padilla sons feel that their mother, gifted with a special understanding of human connection, is the glue that holds the operation together. Now back in the neighborhood where their Chicago story began, Sam Padilla says the whole family is reflecting on the power of the moment.
“My mom brought up how it all came together for us — it’s all here after all this hard work,” he says. “The other day I saw [Isaac] and my dad get a little teary-eyed about it. It was really nice to see and experience. But I didn’t cry. Make sure you tell people that.”
Oggi Trattoria, 1461 W. Chicago Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.