Located around the intersection of Wentworth and Archer Avenue on Chicago’s near south side, Chicago’s Chinatown is well-known for its unique architecture, bustling markets, and delicious foods. While there are hundreds of Chinese restaurants scattered around Chicago, Chinatown features a wide variety of regional flavors that will let you sample tastes from all across China while you explore a cozy and culturally rich area of the city. Seeing so many options in one small neighborhood can be overwhelming and you may ask yourself, “Where do I even begin?”

If you’re curious about the top restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown, we’ve put together a guide to our favorites, and the popular ones we stop at along our Chinatown Food Tour. As for the variety of dishes you’ll find in Chinatown, this post will take you through the most popular dishes and where you can find them.

Just as Americans from different regions have varied opinions about what kind of pizza or hot dogs are the best, China has developed different regional flavors over its many-thousand year history. What makes Chinatown unique is how many authentic dishes we can sample and experiences we can enjoy, and and the stories that define them. Like many of the unique dishes we find in Chicago, the origins of Chinese food in America are the stories of the immigrant communities that brought some of their favorite foods and customs to their new homes all over North America.

The history of Chinese food in America primarily begins in the middle of the 19th century. News of the California Gold Rush traveled the globe and coincided with turmoil in the Guangdong province of China, which inspired a first wave of immigration to the United States. After the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago needed help to rebuild, which drew many of these new immigrants to the city for the first time. The Cantonese cuisine they brought with them would become the most well-known style of Chinese food in America for nearly the next hundred years!

Cantonese Cuisine — Dim Sum

Cantonese cuisine is known for rice-based dishes, lightly-cooked fresh vegetables and meats, and sweeter flavors. In America, these recipes changed to reflect the availability of ingredients and now include familiar favorites like broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms. One of the most unique Cantonese cuisines is dim sum, which to those unfamiliar is like a Chinese version of tapas. Dim sum is often a lighter meal, traditionally reserved for breakfast or brunch, and is typically served with tea as a central part of the experience. Dim sum is also known for its presentation method; often being delivered to your table on a steam-heated cart. The food itself can vary widely in flavor and texture, but can include selections of steamed buns, dumplings, rice noodle rolls, roasted meats, soups, and even sweets like egg tarts. If this is your first dim sum experience, start with Phoenix Restaurant (2031 S Archer Ave.), where we recommend the Ha Gao and Siu Mai dumplings complimented with a bottomless pot of tea. 

Mongolian Hot Pots

The communal dining experience of dim sum makes it unique among most dishes, but it isn’t the only meal meant to be shared. Mongolian hot pot takes a similar idea but in contrast to dim sum it is heartier and meant as a main dish. Originating in Mongolia, hot pot is centered around a large container of heated broth and a large variety of thinly sliced raw meats and vegetables. The diners dip their ingredients into the broth to cook to their preference and are encouraged to sample a wide variety of options. At the end of the meal, the broth has now taken on the flavors of the ingredients it has cooked and can then be served to guests. Hot pot is a fantastic choice for groups that want a fun experience on top of a delicious meal. Check out Happy Lamb Hot Pot (2342 S. Wentworth Ave), one of Chinatown’s favorite choices for this unique dining experience.

Dry Chili Chicken

If you’re interested in an authentic representation of a familiar classic, you can’t pass up on ordering a plate of Dry Chili Chicken. This dish is native to China’s Sichuan province, which is known for its use of garlic and the Sichuan chili pepper in many of its signature dishes. It can be both striking for its simplicity as well as the signature bright red appearance, but what you’ll remember most  is the heat of the Sichuan chili pepper. While you may be familiar with hot peppers in other cuisines, be prepared for a different sensation when you try your first Sichuan pepper!

Fortunately, even if you have a limited tolerance for spicy food, most Sichuan restaurants in the West have toned down their spiciness to a level the locals can handle. One interesting change that happened with Chinese food in the mid-twentieth century is that as restaurants tried to survive, they began to cater to the American palette more by making dishes less spicy and often more sweet. This coincided with the second major wave of Chinese immigration that brought about an increase in more American-friendly Chinese foods, and likely was when the most popular dishes we associate with Chinese food today came about. No matter whether you would prefer your Dry Chili Chicken to be spicy or mild, one of the best places to try this fantastic dish is in Chinatown’s nationally-recognized restaurant Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer Ave). First opened in 1998 by Sichuan-born Chef Tony Hu, Lao Sze Chuan specializes in the authentic taste of Sichuan right in the heart of Chinatown. While you can customize how spicy you would like this dish, don’t be afraid to get adventurous and sample it as it was originally intended.

Orimi Protograph on Unsplash

Chinese Bubble Tea — or Boba Tea

While entire books can be written on Chinese tea alone, one newer offering you simply can’t pass up is Bubble tea — or Boba Tea. This sweet, iced milk tea is known for its most famous ingredient: tapioca pearls. While there is an enormous variety of the kinds of teas, milks, and tapioca pearls that can be combined, the most popular variety is almost always a green or black milk tea served cold with the instantly-recognizable chewy black Boba pearls.

For nearly five thousand years, tea has been interwoven with Chinese culture, but Boba tea has only been around since the early 1980’s. Originally concocted in Taiwan, the popularity of Boba tea exploded into a national phenomenon that quickly spread through Asia and later landed in America, brought by another large wave of Chinese immigration in the 1990’s.

Boba tea is an excellent complement to a lighter fare of street food like the hand-stretched noodles (a north-China specialty, always fresh) or deep-fried skewers you can find at Xi’an Cuisine (225 W. Cermak). If you’ve already tried Boba, now would be a perfect time to try one of the almost limitless varieties at Joy Yee (2139 S. China Pl.), notable for being one of the first restaurants to introduce Boba to the Midwest. Don’t be discouraged if there’s a line, it’s worth the wait!

Chinese Desserts & Bakery Treats in Chicago’s Chinatown

By now, you’ve sampled some of the best of what Chinatown Chicago has to offer, and naturally your mind is drifting towards a sweet treat to finish off your progressive food tour of Chicago’s Chinatown. For some of the best dessert in town, you have to stop by Chiu Quon Bakery (2253 S. Wentworth Ave.), which has the distinction of being the oldest Chinese bakery in Chinatown. They have a wonderful selection of baked goods, but they are known for their Portuguese-style milk egg tart; a buttery, flaky custard tart that reflects the flavors of China as well as colonial Macau.

Visiting Chicago’s Chinatown During the Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year

Each year, between the end of January and the middle of February China celebrates the beginning of a Lunar New Year with annual traditions including parades, lion dancing, and fireworks. Over the course of several days, thousands of locals and visitors flock to Chicago’s Chinatown to partake in the festivities. No matter if this would be your first visit or if you are a seasoned regular, there is no better time of year to sample some of the dishes and foods that make Chinatown a must-see attraction to our city.

Get Your Chinese Good Luck Candy!

While you celebrate the coming Chinese New Year, you won’t want to miss indulging in the the traditional Chinese Good Luck Candy. Customarily given out to friends and loved ones, these strawberry-flavored candies come in a bold and distinctive red wrapper, meant to symbolize good fortune, health, and prosperity in the coming year. These can be found at any number of Chinatown’s vendors, so be sure to peruse some of the smaller storefronts while you’re there; it’s sure to be a family favorite.

Explore Chicago’s Chinatown Foods and Sights on a Guided Tour

The Chinese New Year is always a memorable time to visit, but don’t worry about seeing it all in just one day. Chicago’s Chinatown occupies about thirty blocks, but it is densely packed with hundreds of businesses, restaurants, and sights to see. Each visit can be the perfect reason to try something new and if you’d like to learn more while sampling some of the delicacies in this article, make sure to look more into Chicago’s Chinatown Walking Tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike. Whether you’re a lifelong Chicagoan or just visiting for the first time, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Chinatown and now is the perfect time to experience it.

Note: Some businesses may be closed or operating under restrictions. It’s always best to check their official site before visiting. 


  • Chinatown Food & Culture Walking Tour

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    HIGHLIGHTS: Cantonese Dim Sum, Portuguese-Chinese Bakery Treats, Xi'an Cuisine, Sichuan Dry Chili Chicken, Yummy Noodles

    Phoenix Restaurant – Chinatown
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