Traditionally a Polish neighborhood, Portage Park's culinary scene still retains much of its working-class charm—the food may not exactly be picture-perfect, but it's hearty and delicious. Walk along Milwaukee Avenue and you'll find coffee shops that are also antique stores, hot dog stands serving mean Chicago-style red hots and an upscale restaurant with killer burgers. Find something filling with our guide to the best restaurants in Portage Park.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete Portage Park neighborhood guide
Restaurants in Portage Park
Order some steak frites and a craft beer and you'll be set at Community Tavern—a steakhouse that feels like a neighborhood bar. It's from the group behind the Portage (which is now closed), with decor that prominently features blue velvet banquettes and chandeliers. As fancy as the surrounding might seem, Community Tavern's burger is utilitarian and perfectly-executed.
Everything here is local, with bakery treats like lemon bars, bread and scones from Sicilian, Delightful Pastries and Fannie Schmoe’s. The sandwich meat is from Szymanski, another Portage Park staple, and is the star of the signature sandwich, the Cubanski, a twist on a Cuban with freshly smoked meats. There’s plenty to drink, from espresso drinks to specialties like spicy mocha, which blends cinnamon, chilies and chocolate for a real pick-me-up. Grab a seat on a couch by the window while you work or catch up with friends. There's a retro vibe, with mismatched furniture and brightly colored walls—think '90s coffee shop with 21st Century amenities, like wifi.
Walk down the street and you'll see Smakosz immediately—it's the one that looks kind of like a log cabin. Once inside, you'll be greeted by red booths and tables filled with locals who love this neighborhood pierogi joint. Traditional Polish dishes like borscht fill the menu and we're head over heels for the cheese and potato pierogis, potato pancakes and blintzes.
From the outside, this looks like your standard Chicago hot dog joint. The menu is also par for the course (keep it simple—a Chicago-style dog with fries and a soda), but the interior feels like there's just a tad more care, with a neon sign over the food prep line and yellow accents throughout the dining room. Locals know this joint well, arriving with regular lunch orders—you'll feel like you may have just stepped back in time.
The arepa chorriada (pseudo-polenta smothered in melted cheese and onion-and-tomato criolla sauce) here is dense, greasy and unattractive. But before you know it, you’ve scraped the plate. And before you can exclaim how enormous the bandeja paisa combination is, you’ve already sliced into the juicy New York strip, torn off a crisp piece of fried pork and broken the fried egg and mixed the yolk with the beans. And by that time, your mouth is too full to get the words out.
Even unadorned, the Italian beef at this bare bones Portage Park joint is quite serviceable indeed, built around jus-trapping shreds of subtly-spiced beef. But it’s the hearty house giardiniera that really elevates this sandwich; comprising substantial chunks of crinkle-cut carrot, green olive, celery, cauliflower, and pepper, it adds major crunch and a pop of acidity that balances out all that meatiness. If you want to up the ante, go for an Atomic Combo, which augments the standard beef sandwich with a fiery sausage created by none other than Hot Doug Sohn.
Served with a signature butter cookie, each burger on the menu at BRGRBELLY has a rock and roll theme that'll immediately make you think "Kuma's," which it is similar to—but minus the line. The burger are stacked with toppings (to the point where it's hard to get your mouth around them), fried are served in miniature deep frying baskets and the cookies are a dessert that you simply won't be able to pass up.
Mother-daughter team Dobra Bielinski and Stasia Hawyrszczuk opened this Jefferson Park bakery in 1998 and have established it as the preferred stop for those seeking Polish pastries (or other European sweets for that matter). Polish specialties like angel’s wings cookies and kolachki are always popular, but come Paczki Day (Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy), this place sells thousands of the lard-fried, cream-filled doughnuts, including one specific to the holiday filled with boozy custard. Coffee cake, muffins and breads have universal appeal year-round.
The factory behind all the cheesecakes you'll see running amok in Chicago, Eli's Cheesecake World has a deli next door with an insane amount of cheesecake. Sure, sure, you can get a sandwich, but personally, we're sticking to the peanut butter chocolate cheesecake slice with only a few full cheesecakes to go, please.
The cafe is open and airy, with tall windows that let in a lot of light. There are counters and tables to work at, plus a handy room in back to reserve for meetings. The coffee is Intelligentsia, and there’s the standard lineup of coffee and lattes, which are well-made and strong. There are also special drinks, like strawberry lavender lemonade and a variety of baked items available, which Portage brings in from JR Dessert Bakery in Rogers Park.