Frankie’s Ristorante continues family’s legacy in Italian dining

The Tinley Park restaurant features an array of staples that includes Italian classics and modern fare.

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Frankie Santoro and Angela Santoro-Castelli grew up in their parents’ restaurant, where they absorbed the importance of etiquette and geniality in the hospitality industry.

Taking a cue from patriarch Vince Santoro’s heyday, the gregarious Frankie Santoro scoops up patron’s children, mixes martinis and shares limoncello shots with equal aplomb these days at Frankie’s Ristorante in Tinley Park.

“[He and dad] are both charming and personable, out and about. I like to be behind the scenes [like our mom] making everything happen,” said Santoro-Castelli, Frankie’s Ristorante general manager and events coordinator.“We all compliment each other.”

The elder Santoros were born in Italy and moved to the United States as teenagers. The couple, who didn’t speak English, opened Frankie’s Beef & Pasta in Oak Lawn in 1988. (They continue to run the restaurant with the help of their son-in-law.) It was there that the younger Santoros would learn to appreciate their parents’ sacrifices despite being embarrassed when picked up in the Frankie’s Beef van after school.

In between school work, Santoro-Castelli would pour pop and her brother — whom the restaurant was named after — would clean tables.

Frankie Santoro (left) is the co-owner of Frankie’s Ristorante, his sister Angela Santoro-Castelli (right) is the general manager and event coordinator.

Frankie Santoro (left) is the co-owner of Frankie’s Ristorante, his sister Angela Santoro-Castelli (right) is the general manager and event coordinator.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“My parents opened up on a chance,” Frankie Santoro said of the still popular Oak Lawn eatery and their catering business. “They literally built everything from hard work.”

Twenty years after opening Frankie’s Beef & Pasta, the family debuted Frankie’s Ristorante, featuring an array of Italian staples that includes the Santoro clan’s classic recipes and Executive Chef Gaetano Calandrini’s modern fare.

Menu items at Frankie’s Ristorante are made to order, from scratch, including the popular vodka sauce.

About 400 pounds of pasta are made in-house each week in a state-of-the-art machine imported from Italy that mixes and extrudes the pasta. Calandrini imports Italian olive oil, tomatoes and non-GMO, organic flour — Superfine”00”Farina — for his ravioli. He uses non-GMO domestic semolina for his dry pastas.

The Linguini Con Polpette, serves at Frankie’s Ristorante, is made with long strand pasta, homemade marinara sauce, and mini meatballs. 

The Linguini Con Polpette, serves at Frankie’s Ristorante, is made with long strand pasta, homemade marinara sauce, and mini meatballs.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Daily specials include a heavy rotation of fresh seafood from soft-shell crab to branzino, seasonal vegetables like stuffed zucchini flowers and, during colder months, game meat from quail, deer and boar.

The Ciambotta is made of charbroiled sausage, roasted sweet peppers, mushrooms, Vesuvio potatoes and sundried tomatoes, finished in a white wine garlic sauce.

The Ciambotta, served at Frankie’s Ristorante, is grilled sausage, roasted sweet peppers, mushrooms, and Vesuvio potatoes served in a white wine garlic sauce. 

The Ciambotta, served at Frankie’s Ristorante, is grilled sausage, roasted sweet peppers, mushrooms, and Vesuvio potatoes served in a white wine garlic sauce.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The airy and flavorful hand-rolled beef and pork meatballs are a favorite; about 5,000 are sold every week.

Seafood items include a grilled baby octopus appetizer, “linguine frutti di mare” with mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp and scallops in a red sauce and a chef signature entree of grilled Alaskan wild king salmon.

The grilled octopus served at Frankie’s Ristorante.

The grilled octopus served at Frankie’s Ristorante.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Along with catering, Frankie’s has private dining space for up to 80 people, happy hour specials, 2 for 1 pasta on Wednesdays and a $21.95 prix fixe menu on Tuesdays.

The Santoro siblings are carrying out their parents’ legacy, maintaining a steady amount of regulars and drawing new customers, manager Luis Palafox said.

“Angela and Frankie are so passionate about what they do,” Palafox said. “They put so much love into this place.”

The dining room at Frankie’s Ristorante in Tinley Park.

The dining room at Frankie’s Ristorante in Tinley Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Santoro-Castelli said as South Siders, she and her brother love bringing culture, food and hospitality to Tinley Park and the surrounding area.

Added Frankie Santoro, “I was 28 when I opened here, which is young to have your own restaurants. [Eleven years later] I feel like everybody looks at me not as ‘little Frankie’ anymore.”

Frankie’s Ristorante is located at 9501 W. 171st Street in Tinley Park. Call (708) 226-6996 or visitwww.frankiesristorante.com

Frankie’s Ristorante is located at 9501 W 171st St. in Tinley Park. 

Frankie’s Ristorante is located at 9501 W 171st St. in Tinley Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

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