Best Polish restaurants in Chicago
The real Barbakan is a gateway to the old city of Krakow in Poland. This one? The gateway to traditional Polish food for novices. Located in the heart of Chicago’s Polish district, Barbakan leaves no stone unturned with a massive menu of greatest hits. Of the half-dozen housemade soups, venture out with the flaczki (tripe) soup, a hearty old-school soup with bits of tripe floating in broth heady with bay leaf. Move on to kotlet milenijny, a crispy boneless pork chop oozing with cheesy mushrooms and topped with a fried egg. The gluttony doesn’t stop there: End with sweet cheese or blueberry pierogi, dusted with sugar and served (of course!) with sour cream for dredging.
This spot’s tagline, “Probably the best Polish food in Chicago,” may be selling itself short. This is some excellent Polski grub, in all its potato-heavy, comfort-food glory. Head straight for soft cheese and potato pierogi sprinkled with crunchy bacon or bright borscht, served in a mug alongside a Polish croquette (essentially an egg roll stuffed with shredded pork). Enjoy now, work it off later.
When we say Podhalanka has an “old world” feel, we mean old world in that “premodern comforts” kind of way. Not that this dive doesn’t have electricity, but it is dark and not as clean as your mother would like. What it lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in tasty, authentic Polish eats. We love the beet salad, cabbage soup, potato pancakes and pierogi. We also love talking about the old country with the buddy on the barstool next to us.
Within its warm, wooden, southern Polish confines, U Gazdy offers upscale food and home-style service, both thanks to its warm owner and hostess, Beata. First, she’ll bring complimentary rye bread with buttery, creamy smalec (rendered lard) for slathering. Next, she might steer you toward a bowl of the zurek (white borscht) or the cool, slick, lightly smoked salmon. Listen up when she recommends the pork tenderloin “escallops,” which, no, doesn’t contain scallops, but does boast a smoky cheese sauce over a tenderloin that rivals any in town. Crispy skinned duck is done traditionally, baked with apples, and perfectly. Finish with the Attorney’s Delight—fried bananas drizzled with Polish eggnog—and prod Beata for the origin of the name.