Chicago’s Chinatown is a neighborhood rich in tradition and history. It is the third largest “Chinatown” in the country (San Francisco and New York have us beat size-wise) but the authentic Chinese restaurants, shops and architecture make this neighborhood number one for Asian-American culture in the Midwest.
When you first arrive at Chinatown, take a walk over to Wentworth Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag. The street is quite a sight with vibrant murals, intricate walls and embellished facades depicting dragons and historic illustrations. At the north end of this stretch is the entrance to Chinatown, an Asian-style gate that sets the neighborhood apart from surrounding communities. The landmark Chinatown Gateway was built in 1975 and while it sits on the modern side of architecture, it still embraces the age-old designs of ancient Chinese culture. Like the Gateway, Chinatown Square, an outdoor shopping plaza, is a must-see destination. Inside the Square is a zodiac sculpture garden that holds twelve bronze animal statues corresponding to the Chinese zodiac. Just around the corner is the Chinatown Mural featuring hand-painted tiles and the equally intricate Nine Dragon wall.
Another hotspot in Chinatown is Ping Tom Memorial Park. This 12-acre park sits on the banks of the Chicago River and has really neat bamboo gardens, a Riverfront Pavilion and even dragon-boat racing on the odd occassion. In the summer Ping Tom participates in Chicago’s free “Movies in the Park” series, so locals can catch a flick out under the stars.
The neighborhood’s public parks and artwork have an allure that draws many visitors, but by and large, Chinatown’s main attraction has always been the authentic Asian cuisine. We’re not talking all-you-can-eat buffets you find in a strip mall – the restaurants here are family-run eateries that use recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Fans of mini portion meals can nibble on dim sum at Shui Wah, but try to steer clear of the place on Saturday and Sunday because the crush of weekend diners makes it almost impossible to find a seat. Another popular Chinatown mainstay is Happy Chef Dim Sum House where communal dining is common – so be prepared to rub shoulders with your neighbor. Lobster King Restaurant is a safe bet for those who are easing their way into hardcore Chinese dishes. You can also find Malaysian fare at Penang (which was one of Al Capone’s old hangouts back in the day) and if you just can’t break away from Chicago-style pizza, Connie’s Pizza has your fix.
Adding to the authentic feel of Chinatown is a number of storefront marts packed to the gills with everything from jasmine teas and Asian spices to quirky souvenirs and exotic flavored candies. Many of these shops are run by families and the merchandise is often shipped overseas from China and other Asian countries. It’s a great spot to get unique gifts and decorations, and the prices are usually pretty reasonable, although there are some fine jade jewelers who command top dollar for their carefully crafted handiwork.
Finding residential vacancies in a community as condensed as Chinatown is no easy feat. But if you are lucky enough to happen upon an empty space, you’ll be pleased with the affordable prices. Most homes are older multiunit residences in the form of condos, lofts, and a few townhomes, thrown in for good measure. A two-bedroom unit in this culturally colorful Chicago neighborhood averages in the mid-$200,000s. And if you manage to find something larger than that (good luck), expect to pay around $300,000 or more.
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|Bo Bo Restaurant
417 W North Ave
|China Cafe Seafood Restaurant
2300 S Wentworth Ave
2238 S. Wentworth
2411 S Wentworth Ave
2828 S Wentworth Ave
221 W. Cermak
|House of Taste
232 W Cermak Rd
|Lao Sze Chuan
2172 S. Archer
|The Phoenix Cafe
2131 S. Archer
2130 S. Wentworth
Cuisine: Chinese/Dim Sum