For the “I only have one-day” tourists…
The windy city (Chicago) is home to deep-dish pizzas and a gorgeous skyline along Lake Michigan. It was also, one of the first cities established in the USA and a hot hub for newly arrived immigrants to settle in during the Gilded Age. For the tourists who enjoy both history and great food specialties, you really should take a day to visit the neighborhoods.
The five main ones are Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, Ukranian Village, and Bronzeville.
I personally was not able to visit Ukrainian Village or Bronzeville due to time, and I decided to pass as I was informed by a local friend that they were more residential. However, if you have more than a day I recommend you take a look and try something local in the area.
In order of the places I visited, I will start with Greektown. Overall Greektown is a very safe area, however, it is also fairly small. There is a single strip of restaurants that run through at most 4–5 blocks with maybe 2–3 side shops further in. I found other tourists in this area to be a bit older and more affluent as there isn’t much to do besides eating at a fancy restaurant. I did see one small candle shop that seemed to be filled with lots of other items related to Greece, however, the store was closed. As far as small bakeries, they are also all connected to the restaurants as well and it’s not really a neighborhood where you can get a quick snack while enjoying the outdoor neighborhood. It was my least favorite out of the three but still worth the visit.
Next, I went drove over to Little Italy! This neighborhood was much larger than Greektown as it had both a residential area as well as a long line of shops that stretched several blocks. There are a few famous shops you must try when you go to Little Italy. The first being Mario’s Lemonade, an Italian Ice stand that was established in the 1950s. This is a very popular spot for the locals and was absolutely delicious! I chose the pomegranate-lemon twist, but in the future, I would probably just get full pomegranate. It will also be hard to miss as there is usually a long line outside of the stand, don’t worry though as it moves fast! The other spot you should try is Al’s Italian Beef Sandwich. The shop looks a bit rundown from the outside, but they’ve been in operation for over 80 years. I personally did not get to try it as I didn’t realize I was passing the store and was focused on saving room for Chinatown, but it is a top priority on my list for next time.
Finally, I made my way to Chinatown, and I have to say I was extremely surprised! Having explored San Francisco’s Chinatown many times, I expected it to be less impressive but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Chicago’s Chinatown is huge, and potentially the same size, if not bigger than, San Francisco’s! There was an entire residential district in their Chinatown that reminded me of neighborhoods I had been to when I was actually in China. All of the signs had both Hanzi and English and you could hear conversations in Cantonese and Mandarin along your stroll into the touristy area. I believe Chinatown in Chicago is separated into an old and new district, the old district is where the residential areas are with quite a few grocery stores, restaurants, and bakeries; while the new one is right across the street with even more shops, bubble tea stands, and restaurants. The newer section also has Korean restaurants as well from what I could see. A popular food stand, many people were lined up for, was the Thai Rolled Ice cream in the old Chinatown. In the newer area, Joy Yee’s Bubble tea is a very popular option as well. My friend recommended their fruit smoothies with boba in them! On your way through there is also a mall/food court area with even more shops inside. There is also an open space with statues of all the Chinese zodiacs where teenagers practice and showcase their newly learned K-Pop dances. So after you grab your boba and baos there’s a bit of entertainment!
Overall Chicago is a great place to visit with much more to offer than a picture with the famous bean. On your next trip be sure to take a food tour through the neighborhoods!