The Far Northwest Side of Chicago includes the neighborhoods of Avondale and the Polish Village (Jackowo and Wacławowo), with large Polish communities; Irving Park and Old Irving, quiet areas with historic homes; and Forest Glen, Jefferson Park, Norwood Park, Edison Park, Edgebrook, Dunning, and Portage Park, residential areas which have nice parks, old theaters, and some big annual festivals.
These are the neighborhoods closest to O’Hare International Airport.
The Far Northwest Side is, for many travelers, nothing more than a blur of drab buildings seen from the expressway or the Blue Line on their way to O’Hare. And only the most fervent of true believers could make an argument that it ought to be anywhere near the top of a first-time visitor’s list. None of the city’s most famous landmarks are located here; nothing in the best-known history or literature about Chicago happened here. In fact, most Chicagoans would find the Far Northwest Side as unfamiliar as someone right off a plane from the coast.
What is here, though, is a group of large, residential communities and a handful of treasures they’ve grown accustomed to keeping for themselves, unencumbered by style or pace. Sausage shops and old-style Italian restaurants carry on as if health food and celebrity chefs never happened. If you’re serious about trying a Chicago-style hot dog at the peak of the form, you’ll do well here. Two classic movie palaces awaken for special events, and there is a strong contender for the city’s best original theater venue — the Prop Thtr.
Plenty of tourists and locals have tried “going Chinese” for a night in Chinatown, but an even more immersive (and less-traveled) experience is “going Polish.” English slides to second on the signs, the food makes sweet love to your waist, and the beer flows cheap at your choice of fab discos straight out of Eastern Europe or laid-back dives with you and the regulars. Famously, Chicago has the largest population of Polish people of any city in the world save Warsaw. If you never make it to Poland, at least you can say you’ve been to Avondale.
So once you’re sick of the screaming brats in Lakeview and Lincoln Park, the scuzz in Uptown, the tourist traps on the Mag Mile, the crowds in the Loop, the hipsters in Wicker Park, the confusion in Rogers Park, the pretension in Hyde Park, the cranks in Bridgeport — and you’re in the mood to experience Chicago all over again, for the first time — then the Far Northwest Side may have something for you.