Alternative Guide to Chicago
Humboldt Park was named for German naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt. The present neighborhood of Humboldt Park is bounded by Armitage on the north, Chicago on the south, Western on the east, and Pulaski on the west. Although building codes became more strict after the Great Fire of 1871, settling in this area was originally fairly easy because it was then situated outside city limits. However, no major development took place until the Armitage Avenue streetcar reached the area. Humboldt Park, which was originally populated by Germans and Scandinavians, later underwent a demographic relandscaping. Presently, the neighborhood contains Italians, Poles, Russian Jews, and African Americans, with nearly half of the residents being Latino. Nearly sixty different languages and dialects are spoken by the children in Humboldt Park schools. This neighborhood has the second-largest Puerto Rican population in the mainland United States, and the Puerto Rican flag brackets a section of Division Street (from Western to California Avenues). This area, which is also known as Paseo Boricua, comprises the main commercial strip. The Puerto Rican Peoples Parade takes place in September. The Fiesta Boricua, the wildly popular Puerto Rican Pride festival held in June, is widely recognized as being an annual exhibition of Puerto Rican culture and pride.
Eateries, Shops, and Other Destinations
2638 West Division Street
Puerto Rican coffee shop and bakery
This cozy spot is the perfect place for coffee and conversation in the heart of the Puerto Rican community adjacent to Humboldt Park. Since 1993, Boriken Café has been the favorite deli/bakery of the neighborhood. Patrons relax and read the Spanish-language newspapers available on the counters while drinking coffee and enjoying Puerto Rican butter bread and "quesitos" (cheeses). The atmosphere reflects the slow pace of the island's coffee time, a traditional break taken after lunch.
1720 North California Avenue
This Humboldt Park eatery is nothing fancy-ceiling fans, not air conditioners, provide ventilation-but the authentic Puerto Rican dishes more than make up for it. The specialty of the house is the jibarito sandwich-which features your choice of steak, roast pork, white or dark chicken meat, vegetables, or ham; plus cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and mashed garlic; with two pieces of fried plantain where the bread should be.
2723 West Division Street
This cute Humboldt Park Puerto Rican eatery boasts exposed brick walls, oak floors, plenty of unusual custom-made artwork, and a beautiful wood bar that features an extensive rum collection. You can even get a glimpse of the kitchen at work through the large glass-paned windows in the rear of the dining room.
Try the sampler platter to start: a combo of mini-pastelilios (beef-stuffed turnovers), bolitas de yautia (a battered and deep-fried root vegetable), arannitas (shattered plantain fritters), and coconut-crusted shrimp. The entre portion of the menu is divided into "classic," which includes the mofongo (a plantain stuffed with shrimp, chicken, or shrimp), and the asopaos (a hearty Puerto Rican stew with tostones, which are fried plantains). The "modern" choices include lamb chops in papaya sauce and a mahi-mahi filet in a lobster bisque. The house-made rum and coconut ice cream makes a tasty finish to the meal. In the summer months, the front windows open onto a small sidewalk caf, and there are two gazebos providing shelter in inclement weather.
2726 West Division Street
Welcome to the taste of Puerto Rico. La Bruquena is one of the most popular Puerto Rican restaurants in town. It is located in the area known as the Paseo Boricua, an important Puerto Rican commercial district adjacent to Humboldt Park. La Bruquena and its owner, Roberto Tanon, take pride in offering to this neighborhood "sabor a patria" (Patriotic Taste). Besides the house special ("Mofongo," mashed green plantain), La Bruquena serves other Caribbean delights such as green bananas and fried pork, as well as seafood. Every Friday night, La Bruquena offers live Latin jazz in the second-floor lounge, which is named "Mi Sitio" (My Place).
1340 North Homan Avenue
This Caféteria-style spot specializes in authentic Puerto Rican food, including stews, rice and beans, and especially the vianda-an assortment of boiled tubers and banana relatives.
La Palma in the Park
Humboldt Park Boathouse
1359 North Sacramento Avenue
La Palma in the Park (like its sister, year-round restaurant-La Palma) serves up authentic Puerto Rican food in a Caféteria-style setting. As the name implies, however, this La Palma is set in the middle of Humboldt Park, one of Chicago's oldest and largest recreation areas. Enjoy the pasteles (pork tamales), vianda (fried bananas and root vegetables), and patitas guisadas (pig's feet stew) on the historic boathouse patio overlooking a large lagoon and natural marshland. La Palma in the Park is in the Humboldt Park boathouse, which is accessible from a parking lot on North Sacramento Avenue (also called North Humboldt Boulevard).
1400 North Sacramento Avenue
This is the ideal of a park. At nearly 207 acres, it's one of Chicago's largest. Humboldt Park features several lagoons (dredged in 1996), a popular beach, an outdoor pool, and more than fifteen baseball diamonds. Other facilities include two combination football/soccer fields, four basketball standards, eleven tennis courts, four playgrounds, two spray pools, cross-country skiing, a bicycle path, an assembly area, ice skating in winter, and ten picnic areas. The fieldhouse offers two gyms and a kitchen. There are also many organized activities. There's also a boathouse that is the second site of Las Palmas Restaurant.
Humboldt Park Beach
1400 North Sacramento Avenue
Don't let the address fool you; this is one of the city's two inland beaches and it really is is located in the middle of Humboldt Park. It's surprisingly large-one block square-and was created several years ago when the lagoon was dredged and a sand bottom was added. The water is very shallow. Nearby, there are playgrounds, baseball diamonds, and a fieldhouse; the lower level overlooks the beach. Free to the public.