Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, its neon green relish on a Chicago-style dog and for bringing the time old classic Take Me Out to the Ball Game to the 7th inning stretch. But tucked away, just below the South Loop off of the Cermak Red Line CTA stop, is one of the city’s priceless jewels, Chinatown. Have you considered visiting Chinatown Chicago but aren’t sure where to start?
Fear not, fellow travel enthusiast! You have stumbled upon a comprehensive guide to Chicago’s Chinatown to enjoy the cultural splendor, tastes, sights and more!
How to Get There
Chinatown’s neighborhood starts on the North at 18th Street, on the East by Clark St, on the South by I-55, and on the East to the Chicago River.
You can always use a rideshare to get around Chicago but Chinatown is conveniently located close to Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. The easiest way to get to Chinatown is by taking the CTA Red Line to Cermak. You can also get to Chinatown via the CTA Greenline to the Cermak McCormick Place stop.
Come for the Day, We Don’t Recommend Staying Overnight in Chicago’s Chinatown
It is important to note, that unless you are on a guided tour, we don’t recommend hanging out in Chinatown past dark. We would suggest planning on being delighted by Chinatown’s culinary mastery for breakfast or lunch. Unless you are a part of this community, we don’t recommend staying the night in Chinatown. Don’t, however, let this deter you from visiting as it is one of the most covenant areas of Chicago to visit from the Loop and is a quick train ride away.
In today’s culture of monetary transactions being done through sweet plastic, many vendors in Chinatown are cash only. We highly recommend planning and bring enough cash to cover your expenses while traversing through this cultural center.
Chicago’s Chinatown History
Chicago is by no means the only city to boast a Chinatown. It is generally agreed that Binondo in the Philippines is the world’s first, and therefore oldest, Chinatown. We would start to see Chinese folks immigrating to the US after 1848 when a carpenter named James Wilson Marshall stumbled upon gold flakes in the American River ushering in a new era in American History: The California Gold Rush. Natural disasters and high taxes implemented from the British Empire, the victors of the Opium Wars, had already created a trend of immigration out of China, but the Gold Rush attracted immigrants from all over the world. It is estimated that around 24,000 Chinese men joined the Forty-Niners in the mad dash for instant riches. A majority of these men would eventually settle in San Francisco, establishing the first Chinatown in the US. Chinatowns would become an invaluable oasis of familiarity and community for people seeking the American Dream.
The first official claim of a Chinese settler in Chicago was in 1878 by T. C. Moy. He believed Chicago to be a friendlier city with less prejudice and encouraged other members of his community to move to Chicago as well. They would set up their homes and businesses near Van Buren and Clark Street. If you’re familiar with the layout of the city, you will have noticed that this is not the cross street where Chinatown currently resides. After harsh discrimination in California and the Chinese Exclusion Act, boycotts against American trade would commence in China, leading to a wave of prejudice in Chicago. Landlords raised their Chinese tenants’ rent, forcing the community to move South, where the rent was cheaper, to Cermak, the site of Chicago’s Chinatown today.
Take a Tour of Chicago’s Chinatown!
Modern day Chinatown’s are still cultural hubs for Chinese Americans providing jobs, community and cultural preservation. They have also become thriving areas for tourism as it’s the best place to try authentic Chinese cuisine without jumping on a plane. Call me biased, but truly the best way to experience the authentic Chinatown experience is to book a food tour. Learn more about the rich history of one of Chicago’s most unique neighborhoods on a food tour in Chicago – for a full list of the best food tours in Chicago check out our blog on it.
Everyone knows how to enjoy good food, but during a food tour you can learn the traditions behind the cuisines, the regional specific history and what brought these dishes to America. Since Chinatown is still the home to many older generations of American Chinese and to new Chinese immigrants, we would highly recommend learning of their cultural customs through a guided food tour of Chinatown.
Chinese American Museum of Chicago
Opened in 2005, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a cohesive narrative of the people who built and now inhabit the area. Their mission “is to advance the appreciation of Chinese American culture through exhibitions, education, and research and to preserve the past, present, and future of Chinese Americans primarily in the Midwest.” Learn about Chinese traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. This museum will entertain, delight, and challenge your perception. You can find the Chinese American Museum of Chicago situated at 238 W 23rd Street. They are open on Wednesday and Friday from 9:30am to 2pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
One of the undeniably best things about Chicago is our love for parks. With over 580 parks and over 8,300 acres tied up in public green spaces, Chicago has rightfully earned the nickname “City in a Garden.” This legacy was not left behind in Chinatown, and Ping Tom Memorial Park is another green haven the city has to offer. Nestled along the banks of the Chicago River, kayaking during the warmer months has become a popular activity. Go for a stroll, ride a bike, or simply enjoy a picnic with friends.
Another fan favorite for visitors to Chicago is shopping! Chinatown Square is a two story outdoor Mall and is a three minute walk off of the Cermak Redline, making it an accessible must see on your Chinatown excursion. Get directions to Chicago’s Chinatown Square here.
Chinatown had to surrender part of its boundaries for the construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90 & I-94) and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). This necessary infrastructure would later be the grounds for Chinese Activists to request more land from the city of Chicago, and in 1993 they would build Chinatown Square. Our main piece of advice, bring cash!
Chinese American Veterans Memorial
Looking for things to see in Chinatown Chicago? The Chinese American Veterans Memorial was erected in 2005 and honors all of those with Chinese American descent who fought in the arm forces, in every branch, to keep our nation safe. It is located on the corner of Cermak and Archer. The experience will only take a few moments to view, so we highly recommend walking by and taking a moment out of your trip to honor the men and women.
Chinese Lunar New Year Festival
Most Chicagoans know that there is one undeniable truth that ties us all together, and that is finding any and every excuse for a party. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have probably heard of the Chinese Lunar New Year Festival. The universally acknowledged Gregorian calendar New Years Eve is celebrated on December 31st, ringing in the new year on January 1st the following year.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar does not have a set date for their New Years, and the actual date changes year to year based on the Chinese Calendar. Chinese Lunar New Year Festival Year of the Rabbit is on January 22nd, 2023. Mark your calendars for the Lunar New Year parade on Sunday January 29th, 2022. This is the biggest holiday of the year for Chinatown so if you plan on attending be sure to get there early and plan for crowds.
Travel Tip: We recommend taking a guided tour of Chicago’s Chinatown during the Chine Lunar New Year Festival. Immerse yourself in the culture, the cuisine, customs and more during this time of celebration.
Where to Eat in Chicago’s Chinatown
When it comes to eating in Chinatown there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that there are a plethora of incredible dining options. The bad news is that it can be difficult to decipher where exactly you should eat. Some places have such similar names that if you’re meeting someone it can be easy to get mixed up.
Here at Bobby’s Bike Hike we do have a few favorite places to stop in for a bite in Chinatown. Below are just a few, but you can find a full list of the best Chinese food in Chicago’s Chinatown in our blog.
Foodie fans of Yum Cha, or as you might know it Dim Sum, should check out Phoenix. A local favorite, they once even sported a Michelin Star.
Lao Sze Chaun
Our guides will recommend their Dry Chili Pepper Chicken or the Lemon Shrimp. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy we’re confident you’ll find something on their menu to delight your taste buds since they were once voted one of the nation’s top Chinese Restaurants.
Yummy Yummy Noodles
Another award-winning stop, Yummy Yummy Noodles is one of Chinatowns top 5 places to get your noodles. With a name like Yummy Yummy, how can you doubt they would be anything but divine
Chinatown Chicago is an important neighborhood not only for the American Chinese community but also the diversity that Chicago was built on. We are a city of immigrants, built on the dreams of settlers from all walks of life working together to create a city for all people.
Our accomplishments that resonate across the globe are thanks to the diversity of cultures and ideas we have shared since the very first settler, a Haitian immigrant named Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, graced the banks of the Chicago River. Chinatown is an enduring preservation of culture that we are proud to have in our city.
Book a tour of Chinatown, grab a bite to eat, and learn more about why this community has helped shape the heart of Chicago.
Learn More4pm Friday - Sunday, Added 11:30am Saturdays
HIGHLIGHTS: Cantonese Dim Sum, Portuguese-Chinese Bakery Treats, Xi'an Cuisine, Sichuan Dry Chili Chicken, Yummy NoodlesPhoenix Restaurant – ChinatownLearn MoreButton URL Seconday HeaderKids under 12Kids under 4Number Secondary HeaderLogo Secondary HeaderStudents / Seniors 65+Student / MilitaryRelated ToursArrayPrivate Group RequestArrayAdult$69.99LENGTH1 mileAGE1+DURATION2.5 hrsSCHEDULE4pm Fri - Sun, Added 11:30am SaturdaysCustom Line4pm Friday - Sunday, Added 11:30am SaturdaysReserve NowPRICE
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