Visiting Chicago’s Chinatown

When you hear Chinatown, you may think of New York or San Francisco, but you might be surprised to find that Chicago actually has a bustling Chinatown not far from downtown. I recommend adding a morning in Chicago Chinatown to your Windy City itinerary!

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

Chicago Chinatown is south of the Loop and is easy to reach from the Loop and Mag Mile areas.  You can take the “L” (the red line stops right at Chinatown), drive (parking is plentiful and affordable), and the water taxi is a fun option in the summer.

CTA - Chicago Transit Authority - El Map

If you happen to be in Chicago in February, check out the schedule for Chinese New Year festivities.  I made sure to catch the parade this year and I am so glad that I did!  The parade kicked off with a bang, literally, as the entrance gate had ribbons of firecrackers streaming down.  It was quite loud to be so close, and many around me covered their ears, especially the little ones. It was so fun to see the colorful dragon costumes and experience a little bit of a different culture for the day.

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

2.5.17 Chinese New Year - Chicago's Chinatown

My favorite part of a Chinatown visit is, of course, the food!  If you haven’t tried Dim Sum, this is the place to give it a shot!  Dim Sum are dumpling style food served in small plates or steamer baskets. It’s like tapas in that you order lots of items to share with your table.  The larger the group, the more dishes you will sample.  Some restaurants provide a menu to order from, others have carts that circle the room and you select what you want as the cart passes by.  It seems like most of the Chicago Chinatown restaurants go for the menu approach, which I liked.  As a picky eater, I am not prone to grabbing random things off a cart and just eating them! I like to know what I’m getting into!

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

On a recent visit, we went to Phoenix Restaurant for Sunday brunch. We arrived before 10am and got a table right away. By the time we left at 11:00, there was a line out the door! I’ve found this to be the case all over town. I don’t consider myself a morning person, but compared to the rest of Chicago, I guess I am!

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

You know what else I love about dim sum?  The price!  We ordered 5 plates, plus tea, and our bill was $24.  A visit to Chicago can be pricy, so this is a good option if you are traveling on a budget.  We sampled a variety of sweet and savory items, including Sesame Ball, creamy egg yolk bun, and seafood dumpling. The menu at Phoenix has about 70 small plates and a “regular” menu of rice and noodle dishes as well.

Chicago ChinatownDim Sum at Phoenix Restaurant

Be sure to save some room for dessert as Chicago Chinatown is lined with bakeries and pastry shops.

Chicago Chinatown Bakery

As with most Chinatown areas, shopping is plentiful in Chicago Chinatown as well.  Unlike New York, I didn’t see the faux designer stuff being sold on the streets here.  The shops are stuffed to the ceiling with your typical tourist trappings, Chinese trinkets, Buddha statues and regular household items.

Shopping Chicago Chinatown

If you’re visiting with kids, check out this post on WellTraveledKids.com for an afternoon itinerary in Chicago Chinatown.

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Chicago Chinatown

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The Dining Room at Kendall College

This is a unique dining experience that you should absolutely check out if you happen to be in Chicago on a Monday night.  My balcony pretty much looks right out at Kendall College, so it’s a quick walk for me, but it’s near the intersection of Chicago and Halsted, which are served by major bus routes, about 15 minutes from Michigan Avenue or the Loop.  Obviously, by the name, it’s a college, which includes a culinary school and a dining room that is open to the public.  There are open for lunch or dinner, although I’ve only attended the Monday Night Dining Series.

At the beginning of the season, the themes are posted and open up for reservations.  Each week, a famous chef is highlighted and the 5 course menu is based on their style.  For $38, you get a 5 course meal, and you can BYOB.  For the Monday Night Series only, there is no corking fee.  They also have a full bar and wine list if you don’t BYOB.  It’s really such a great deal.  The food is prepared by chef students and the servers are from the pastry school.

Last year, I went on the night they highlighted Emeril. (Oddly enough, I would be eating at Emeril’s Orlando restaurant about a month later!)  This was the best (OK, only) kale I’ve ever had!  I’m not an adventurous eater by any stretch, but I cleaned every plate at this one!

This year, the highlighted chef was Ming Tsai, who I’ll admit, I had not heard of.  (You can tell I’m not a foodie or Food Network addict!)

First Course:  Vegetable Spring Roll, Spicy Mustard, Pickled Ginger, Fresh Mint

Second Course:  Seared scallops, cauliflower puree, eggplant caviar, carrot glaze, curry oil, pomme gaufrette (which I think is a fancy word for potato chip!)

Third Course:  Poached Shrimp, soba noodles, bok choy, crispy bean threads, sugar snap peas, red pepper

Fourth Course:  Seared pork loin, apple pepper jelly, ginger sweet potato, spiced apples

Fifth Course:  Spiced cake, orange gastrigue, cardamom

Everything was delicious, although for the most part, I left the sauces alone.  I like my seafood, or any food really, pure and not drowning in sauce.  Especially when the sauce is spicy, as was the case for several of these dishes.

Reservations are required for the series.  This year, I called about 3 weeks out and was put on a waitlist, which opened up a few days before the event.

Even if you aren’t in Chicago on a Monday, you may still want to visit the dining room.  Click here for more info.

 

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