Chicago has recently experienced a renaissance of Bohemian cooking, with newcomers like Dusek’s Board & Beer and Bohemian House offering modern (and lighter) takes on the classic cuisine from the Czech Republic. But we're also interested in their predecessors—classic Czech food is highly influenced by its European neighbors (like German food), and the result is a warming mix of comfort food that's hearty and unapologetically rich. We had to head to the Cicero area to find them, but here's where to tuck into classic Czech cuisine, like goulash, schnitzels and sauerkraut.
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Where to find Czech food
Located in Westmont, Bohemian Crystal has loads of charm and cute, kitschy European country decor. With a range of classic Czech dishes served in enormous portions, you’ll surely head home with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Try the superlative breaded pork tenderloin, pounded thin and coated in egg and breadcrumbs before being fried to a golden brown. On the weekend, you can enjoy Segedín Goulash, a thick stew made out of shredded pork and sauerkraut, and seasoned with sour cream and sweet Hungarian paprika alongside puffy bread dumplings that soak up the gravy. Skip the jello, and finish your meal with a homemade poppy seed or apricot koláčky.
A cozy wallpapered interior decorated with china plates and a bar lined with warm honey-stained wood paneling add some Midwestern charm to this casual restaurant in suburban Cicero. Order a mug of Czech beer like the Praga Dark, a rich dark lager, or Czechvar, a Czech pilsner, both on tap. If you’re really hungry, the “Farmer’s Market” selection offers a huge assortment of meat, including tender roast pork, smoked pork butt, Polish sausage and a slice of meatloaf. Potato pancakes are fried to a crisp brown and served three days a week, and make a great accompaniment to the plump pork pierogi dumplings, which are topped with fried onions and bacon. Be cautious with the bread dumplings, made with risen yeasted dough—the fluffy slices can fill you up faster than you’d expect, and you want to leave room for dessert (we suggest the blueberry-filled fruit dumplings).
The most formal dining space for traditional Czech, Klas is decked out to look like a Bohemian lodge straight out of an Eastern European fairy tale. The bar area is dark and features everything from vintage beer signs to taxidermied animals, while the dining room includes a mounted bearskin rug and a stained glass window depicting roasted fowl. As an appetizer, you can order a “Czech Mex” taco made with goulash and housemade tortillas. Try the classic svíčková, slow-cooked beef sirloin sliced and swimming in gravy laced with sour cream and seasoned with spices, or the koprová, which has beef pot roast topped with a sour cream and dill gravy. Both pair well with bread dumplings and potatoes, and are served with sour-sweet cranberries topped with a dollop of whipped cream. The best deal is on Friday and Saturday afternoons, when many of dishes are available during lunch for only $8.
Riverside Restaurant has the charm of a mom-and-pop diner and features traditional diner classics alongside hearty Czech fare. Entrees are served with soup and dessert, and with entrees averaging $10, you won’t break the bank on a three-course meal. The roast duck is slow-cooked and features a crispy browned skin, and you can pair it with a side of sour-sweet sauerkraut and boiled houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings). Stop in on Sunday, when one of the specials is veal paprika—onions and veal are simmered until tender and spiked with sour cream and a sweet, smoky kick of Hungarian paprika. The dish is accompanied by a mountain of buttery spätzle, perfect for scooping up the thick and creamy gravy.
An old-school bakery filled with treats and cookies, Vesecky’s features a selection of handmade Eastern European goodies. Here the koláčky, sweet, rectangular pastry filled with jams, poppy seeds or cheese—are a far cry from the ones you may have encountered on a cheap grocery store cookie platter. The oversized cookies are made with pastry dough reminiscent of pie crust, flakey and tender from the addition of cream cheese to the dough, and stuffed with a variety of fillings (we’re partial to the almond). Traditional Czech houska also shines, a rich and slightly sweet yeasted dough similar to challah, flecked with plump golden raisins. Try it toasted with butter for breakfast, or slice it thick and use it to make French toast on the weekend.