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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Be sure to save some room for dessert as Chicago Chinatown is lined with bakeries and pastry shops.
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.
If you’re visiting with kids, check out this post on WellTraveledKids.com for an afternoon itinerary in Chicago Chinatown.