There are so many neighborhoods to explore. While every city seems to have a Chinatown, Chicago’s south side neighborhood is worth a day trip. Chinatown is nice to explore because all of the main attractions are pretty close to each other and it is easily accessible from the CTA Redline. Though the neighborhood is odd-shaped, you can easily navigate north and south on S. Wentworth Ave. and east to west on Cermak Ave.
First Stop: Chinatown Square: Zodiac & Chinese Food
To start you Chinatown adventure, get off at the Cermak-Chinatown Redline station and head north on S. Wentworth Ave. to S. Archer Ave. Here you will easily find the iconic Chinatown Square, a multi-level retail and restaurant space as well as meeting area and event space. The Chinatown Square was constructed in 1993 and includes the famous hand-made mural, which focuses on Chinese immigration to the United States. It’s also fun to check out your zodiac sign and take a picture next to your sign’s statue.
While you are there, grab lunch at one of the authentic restaurants on the strip. I would recommend MingHin Cuisine (2168 S Archer Ave) for fried rice or Lao Beijing (2138 S. Archer Ave.), which is a great spot to order different dishes and share a family styled meal.
On my last trip to Chinatown, we went to The Phoenix (2131 S. Archer Ave.), which is across the street from Chinatown Square. There, we enjoyed a traditional Dim Sum meal. Dim Sum, according to The Phoenix restaurant means “dot-hearts,” small treats that touch the heart. There is a special Dim Sum menu. In a group, you write in a tally for each dish and the owner suggested that we order 3-4 dishes each, which we quickly learned was a lot of food.
Popular plates ordered included: mochi, ribs, chicken feet, pig intestines, and egg rolls. The mochi was different than the cold, ice-cream filled dessert I had tasted before. This one was soft, and dough-like with dark chocolate-colored, paste-like filling. It was an enigma to us. We ordered four plates of ribs (I was on a college tour). The ribs were petite, with a fingernail portion of meat per bone, but they were tender, and we had two plates for leftovers. Some were brave enough to try the chicken feet, which, as you can imagine, were bony. The only real part you could consume was the skin. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t eat it again. After two cups of tea and two hours later, we were ready to continue our tour.
Second Stop: Nine Dragon Wall
After lunch, head south to the Nine Dragon Wall (158 W. Cermak Road). You passed it on your way in, but Chinese food was calling. So, walk back. It’s across the street from the giant Chinese Gate currently calling your name. The wall serves as a welcome sign to Chinatown. There is a map with all of the highlights next to it. The wall itself, was completed in 2003 and is a replica of a wall in Beijing. The Nine Dragon Wall has nine large dragons and 500 smaller dragons. In Chinese culture, the number nine has magical powers and dragons are a sacred animal. This monument adds feng shui to Chinatown according to the Chinese American Museum, as it brings positive energy to the negative energy of the ramp from 1-55.
Third Stop: Chinatown Gate
Cross S. Wentworth Ave. and you will arrive at the Chinatown Gate. This gate marks the beginning of Chinatown’s Mag Mile. Chinatown Gate was designed by Peter Fung, and it was also inspired by a Beijing wall. At the top of the gate are four Chinese words, which are translated into “the world belongs to the commonwealth”.
Fourth Stop: Pui Tak Center
On your right, immediately walking past the Chinatown Gate, stop and look up. You will see My Little Ponies and Hello Kitty on the street level, but when you look up, you will see the Pui Tak Center (2216 S. Wentworth Ave.). This center was built in the 1920s. Take a minute to take in the building’s details include terra-cotta walls and pagodas. Pagoda is an architectural style that originates in Southeast Asia. It is an iconic embellishment to Chinese architecture, easily spotted by a multi-tiered tower. Most buildings with pagodas have a religious affiliation, especially Buddhism. The building serves as faith-based social service agency by the Chinese Christian Union Church that serves over 3,000 individuals each year. Classes include immigration services, Christian school, computer skills, and Adult ESL tutoring.
Fifth Stop: Chinese American Museum
The final stop of the tour is two blocks south and to the right on 23rd street. It will feel like you are walking down a neighborhood street, but alas, you will see two lions, smaller, but in some ways similar to the lions outside of the Art Institute. You have arrived at the Chinese American Museum (238 W 23rd St.). Like most museums, it has a permanent collection as well as special exhibits. It serves as an important piece of Chinese culture and information about Chinese immigration not only for Chicago, but for the entire Midwest. The museum also offers special Chinese classes such as Chinese cooking. Just three years after opening, the Chinese American Museum was closed in 2008 due to a fire and reopened in the fall of 2011. Admission is a suggested donation of $5.
I hope you enjoy your day in Chicago’s Chinatown. If you have the chance, stop by the river front or attend one of the many events and celebrations. My favorite is the dragon boat racing in the summer.