Mystery Diner in St. Charles: Francesca’s by the River fluent in Italian classics

A tantalizing aroma of garlic and herbs filled our car as we drove home with takeout treats from Francesca’s by the River in St. Charles.

Just north of Blue Goose Market, it sits on Route 31, next to ample parking and the restaurant’s spacious outdoor tent in the adjacent lot. Outdoor service under the weather-buffering tent was set to begin this week if temperatures cooperate.

The attractively appointed dining room and bar are open, with the team at Francesca’s by the River still happy to provide contact-free curbside service.

An accommodating staffer took our phone order, which we opted to pick up indoors. Our food was ready in 20 minutes at the host stand just inside the restaurant entrance.

I chose the appetizer of Risotto dello Chef, which proved to be a generous serving of one of my favorite rice dishes. It popped with the intensely fresh flavors of delicate asparagus spears, roasted yellow pepper, zucchini, tomatoes and peas, all the tidbits serving as the supporting cast to luscious seared sea scallops. The Italian rice had the perfect creamy finish in this outstanding dish.

My appetite whetted for seafood, we also ordered a side serving of sauteed shrimp. Firm and tasty, the three shrimp were accompanied by ripe cubes of tomato, and a brothy sauce with a warm, garlic underpinning.

The seafood theme carried over to my dining companion, who picked Pappardelle al Salmone. The broad, flat ribbons of fresh egg-noodle pasta were sautéed with mild salmon, earthy wild mushrooms, garlic, and herbs in a light tomato cream sauce.

“I enjoyed the medley of flavors, and the wide noodles carried the sauce well,” he said.

Our meal came with a lovely little loaf of Italian bread, along with containers of Parmesan and herb-infused extra-virgin olive oil for delicious dipping.

We were sated, although looking ahead, the takeout menu’s dessert of Tiramisu tempted with Francesca’s by the River’s take on ladyfingers soaked in espresso and rum with mascarpone cheese, cocoa and chocolate sauce. Various, elaborate Italian sweets are available to patrons dining in.

Francesca’s has sister locations across the region, and a related restaurant, Joe’s Imports Food + Wine in Chicago, recently was recognized in the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand category, “an award for good quality, good value cooking.”

Francesca’s by the River focuses on “the zesty, earthy cuisine of Rome and the surrounding areas of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio,” its website notes.

One of the nice perks is the option of a dedicated gluten-free menu. The restaurant also is open for lunch various days, and is one of the enduring local gems for fans of Italian food.

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff when ordering or picking up the food. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.


WHAT: Francesca’s by the River

WHERE: 200 S. Second St. (Route 31), St. Charles

PHONE: 630-587-8221