One of the greatest things about living in Chicago is all of the diverse neighborhoods that we have to explore. One of my family’s favorite places to spend a day is Chinatown. We typically go on a weekend day for Dim Sum and then we spend an hour or two wandering the streets and looking in all the Chinese grocers and markets. It’s a great way to spend the day and to expose the kids to a different culture. (Who doesn’t like to see live octopus sold by the pound. Yech…but cool!)
Chicago’s Chinatown is anchored on Cermak and Wentworth on the South Side. We typically begin our visit walking around Chinatown Square, which is a 2 level retail center housing many shops and restaurants. You can enter the square from Wentworth & Archer streets. Take your time as you amble down the paths and make sure to take in all the ornate bronze figures. The kids love going into all the shops and browsing the aisles which are jam-packed with Chinese wares like figurines, toys, dried goods, and teas. A visit to Chinatown Square would not be complete without a stop at Aji Ichiban for many variations of gummies and other imported candies (a particular favorite of Middle’s). As you come out of Chinatown Square, cross Archer street, and stop in Chinatown Market at 2121 S. Archer . While the aisles are exceedingly narrow, and you may not love the odors, my kids seem to be able to overlook all that for a chance to see the live sea creatures for sale in the back while my husband and I pick up hard-to-find ingredients for our stir-fry’s. Afterwards, make your way South down Wentworth street. Here you’ll find more storefronts, art galleries and giftshops but with a greater variety of offerings. Little was very excited to find a model ship for her brothers and a cute parasol for herself (not to mention the Hello Kitty erasers that she talked me into buying for her). Last, if you’re a tea drinker, make sure to stop in at Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng (2247 S Wentworth). Here the walls are lined with an impressive array of loose leaf & rolled teas. They have teas here from $5 a pound to $100 an ounce. Woah!
And, when little stomachs start to growl there are a myriad of options for dining. We have tried many of the restaurants but our favorites include: Lao Sze Chuan and MingHin both of which are located in Chinatown Square. The other two standouts are Phoenix and Lao You Ju.
Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S Archer Ave): One of celebrity chef Tony Hu’s restaurants Lao Sze Chuan is a great choice for casual Szechuan cuisine. If the downstairs is too crowded head upstairs-it’s quiet and relaxed. Big and Middle love this place for their rice and noodle dishes.
Minghin (2168 S. Archer Street): Having been recently remodeled, it definitely has one of the nicer dining rooms in Chinatown. While it doesn’t have the most extensive dim sum menu, the food is delicious and it’s picture filled menu makes it one of the best choices for Dim Sum novices. We love their pork & shrimp dumplings.
Phoenix (2131 S Archer Ave): A truly great place to go for dim sum, and the kids love to pick things off the carts.
Lao You Ju (2002 S Wentworth Ave): Another feather in Tony Hu’s cap. We have come here for both dim sum as well as for a Saturday night dinner with friends. The dining room is big and spacious and very comfortable. Big and Middle think this restaurant scores very high for their fried rice and pan fried noodles. We think their dumplings are pretty spectacular too.
Tip: If you’re going on a weekend and are hoping to have dim sum, I suggest that you arrive early as many of the better and more popular restaurants do tend to get crowded and there’s nothing fun about standing in long lines with young kids. (aim for 11am or go after 2pm).
Getting there: We typically drive down to Chinatown. During the week there seems to be ample street parking, but it can be more difficult on weekends. Fortunately there are two parking lots in Chinatown. One is located across the street from Three Happiness Restaurant (2130 S. Wentworth Ave.). There’s also a parking lot at the corner of Archer & Wentworth Ave.
For the Adventurers: On weekends (and during weekdays in the summer) you can take the Chicago Water Taxi to Chinatown. The water taxi leaves from Michigan Ave at the base of the WrigleyBuilding, and from Madison Street at Ogilvie Transportation Center, and stops in Chinatown at the Ping Tom Park. This can be a very fun way to travel but be advised that it is almost a 1/2 mile walk then to Chinatown Square so you have to know what your kids are up for.