Chinatown is a small Chicago neighborhood unlike any other in the city. The community has been a cultural center for Chinese-Americans since the 1880s and today it’s a blend of old country and new country characteristics. Wentworth Avenue is where most of the action is, with a few commercial plazas sprouting off the main drag. The blocks are lined with traditional emporiums that sell imported goods and specialty items from China. And, of course, there’s no better place in town to get authentic Chinese food.
Notable landmarks include the Chinatown Gateway at the north end of Wentworth Avenue and the ornate Nine Dragon Wall made up of nine dragon sculptures protruding from an artful pagoda-style structure. Diners in Chinatown have their pick of Asian restaurants with a pizzeria and BBQ joint thrown in for good measure. There are literally dozens of Chinese food eateries in the neighborhood (and a couple Japanese sushi bars, to boot). Most are found on the northwest corner of the community, near the Chinatown/Cermak Red Line L stop, and everyone has their recommendation for where to get the best noodles and freshest dim sum. Lao Shanghai, Lao Sze Chuan and Lao Beijing are a trifecta of cozy dining spots, all stemmed from the same owner. The neon window lights may seem flashy, but the dishes are delectable and the atmosphere is friendly. Cantonesia serves up scrumptious recipes with Mandarin and Cantonese flavors and Triple Crown has a great selection of seafood for cheap. Won Kow Restaurant is a true neighborhood fixture that has been around since the 1920s, making it the oldest dining establishment in Chinatown. Its second-floor location offers a nice view from the balcony and the restaurant has seating for at least 250.
Chinatown is a fun place to shop because the stores are packed with a wide variety of merchandise that spans from faux silk slippers to Eastern Medicine remedies to heal what ails you. Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Co. is a worldwide organization that has branches in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Canada and the U.S. The Wentworth Avenue store is the only one in the Midwest and its shelves are stocked with all kinds of herbal beverages and gift ideas. Home décor is the specialty of Pacific Furniture and traditional clothing hang on the racks at Oriental Boutique, which has an excellent collection of embroidered satin robes and dresses.
Every year Chinatown holds a Chinese New Year Parade in late January or early February to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Wentworth Avenue is consumed by throngs of people from all around Chicago and beyond. Colorful floats and performers in customary garb are joined by lion dancers and a 100-foot-long paper dragon. Then, in July the neighborhood heats up for the Chinatown Summer Fair, which is basically a giant sidewalk sale. Local business owners put out tables stacked with their wares for festival-goers to peruse and restaurants sell house favorites from vendor carts parked along the street. The event is said to draw as many as 70,000 visitors annually.
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