By Amber Holst of Concierge Preferred
As a multicultural city, Chicago is home to a wide variety of cuisines, cultures, and festivals. But one of the city's brightest cultural scenes is in its vibrant Asian neighborhoods. Here's our guide to three must-visit destinations to take in some authentic Asian food among the locals.
With more than 65,000 Chinese residents, Chicago's Chinatown is one of the largest and most vibrant ethnic communities in the country. While you can take the Red Line there from downtown Chicago, I recommend opting for a ride on the Chicago Water Taxi so you can marvel at the city’s magnificent architecture from the Chicago River along the way. Once docked at Ping Tom Memorial Park, venture a few blocks east to the epicenter of Chicago’s century-old Chinatown.
Start off by snapping some photos in front of one of the 12 beautiful, bronze zodiac statues in Chinatown Square. Designed—down to every minute detail—to resemble a traditional Chinese pagoda, this two-story open air structure is the largest Chinese mall in the Midwest. In addition to its numerous shops, herbalists, restaurants, and cute cafes for bubble tea, you will find an incredible collection of public art. In addition to the zodiac-inspired animal sculptures, there’s twin pagodas and the signature “Chinese in America” mural. This must-see is an enormous tile mosaic that represents the accomplishments of Chinese people in America. It contains 100,000 individually cut pieces of hand-painted glass from China made specifically for this mural.
Next, head a couple blocks south toward Wentworth Avenue, which is the main drag. Along this epic street, you will discover restaurants, distinctive boutique shopping and the Chinatown Gate, a beautifully ornamented entryway that marks the entrance to the neighborhood. As you wander down the strip take note of the Pui Tak Center, whose terra cotta detailing and pagoda-style roof make it one of the most widely-recognized structures on this stretch. It’s also Chinatown’s only registered historical landmark.
If you’re looking to visit a cultural institution, there’s two options along this little jog of Wentworth Avenue. There’s the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, which has a few rotating exhibits focused on niche aspects of Chinese culture, and the Heritage Museum of Asian Art, whose collection includes everything from archaic jades and neolithic pottery to imperial porcelains and textiles.
Now the real question in this dim sum laden land is where to eat? My personal favorite is Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings (QXY). Why? Because you would literally have to fly to China to get something this authentic. The dumplings here are all handmade to order and come in a variety of styles and fillings. They also pair perfectly with a bowl of spicy hot pot. QXY also offer a class on how to make dumplings, which is an experience I would recommend.
Also known as “Little Vietnam” or “Viet Town,” Asia on Argyle is a bustling commercial district is in the Uptown neighborhood at the corner of West Argyle and North Broadway Streets. It is here, below the CTA Red Line’s Argyle stop, where you’ll find the incredible, four-block strip of Argyle Street. This cobblestone and bricked stretch is the place to find pan-Asian supermarkets and any Asian cuisine you could possibly desire. Block by block you’ll be immersed in a mini tour de Asia with ethnic grocers, artisanal treats, and delicious smells of roasted meats.
Continuing further north to Devon Avenue you’ll hit Chicago’s cultural stretch for all things Indian and Pakistani. The colorful saris and bangles may catch your eyes from the windows, but it’s the food that is the biggest draw here. Dive into the different dishes—north and south regional cuisine or Indo-Pakistani, vegetarian or not, pungent heat or delicate and mild—from a neighborhood staple like Hema’s Kitchen before you continue your globe-trotting with a refreshing fruit lassi as you browse the specialty meat markets and grocers that cater to the diverse communities.
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