My wife and I found our way to Sam Buca's shortly after it opened in the summer of 2003, and we immediately became fans. First-rate service, a casually elegant dining room, reasonable prices and an excellent menu of traditional southern Italian cuisine make Sam Buca's worth revisiting regularly.
Located in a strip mall along Harlem Avenue in Palos Heights, Sam Buca's features the main restaurant, an adjacent small bar area and a larger "Buca Bar." Added last summer was a roof-top deck for outdoor dining and drinking during warm-weather months.
Owned by cousins Charles Marfoe and Dominick Buscemi, Sam Buca's is named for the Sicilian town of their parents, Sambuca di Sicilia.
Our most recent visit was on a Saturday, at about 8 p.m. We hadn't made reservations, and we were surprised to find the dining room full at that hour. We were told the wait would be about 20 minutes, so we settled in at the small bar situated between the dining room and the larger bar. There are a handful of tables and a couple of TVs in the small bar area, but we were content to have a glass of wine while waiting for a table in the main dining room.
We were seated in the dining room in less than 10 minutes, with menus at the ready. I had decided on my entree before we even walked into the restaurant. I find Sam Buca's chicken marsala irresistible — two good-sized boneless chicken breasts covered in a sweet marsala sauce and a generous helping of mushrooms. As much as I've enjoyed every entree I've tried at Sam Buca's, I have a hard time ordering anything other than the chicken marsala — even if I have to endure some mocking from my wife.
My wife ordered chicken tetrazzini — strips of chicken sauteed with olive oil, mushrooms, onions and garlic in a light Parmesan cream sauce.
A choice of soup or salad comes with the meals, and we each enjoyed a salad, along with bread and olive oil. If you are a fan of creamy garlic dressing, as we are, you need to try the Sam Buca's variety. I don't know if I've had any better. (Maybe at Aurelio's … but it's a close call.)
My chicken marsala, which came with a side of mostaccioli. was superb. It took all my willpower to save enough for take-home. My wife enjoyed the chicken tetrazzini, but probably would order one of her other favorites, such as chicken vesuvio, on our next visit. Yes, we're partial to chicken dishes, despite the many menu choices of pastas, veal, steak, chicken and seafood.
The full menu, including appetizers and desserts, can be viewed online.
Our waitress was friendly and attentive. Even though the room was crowded — one large group, many couples, a mom with two young children — it wasn't at all noisy, so conversation was no problem. Of course, much of the conversation included my repeated words: "This is darn good marsala."
Sam Buca's Restaurant and Bar
12231 South Harlem Ave., Palos Heights, IL
Reservations: Not required; recommended weekends
Parking: Strip mall parking in front and in rear of the restaurant.
Bar: Separate bar area with plenty of TVs; rooftop bar open during warm-weather months.
Restaurant website: http://www.sambucasrestaurant.com/
Bar website: http://www.sambucasbar.com