Chicago’s Chinatown is considered as one of the largest and most vibrant ethnic communities in North America. The densely populated 30-block commercial area of Chinatown, centering at Wentworth and Cermak, is home to over 10,000 residents and approximately 400 businesses and community institutions. In the broader Chinatown community, there resides an estimated 27,000 Chinese Americans in the near-south neighborhoods. Set amongst the backdrop of cultural landmarks and popular sights such as the Nine Dragon Wall, Chinatown Gate, and Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chinatown offers a glimpse into the customs, traditions, and rich culture of one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
If you would like a guided tour of Chicago’s Chinatown, we hope to be offering a guided tour soon. In the meantime, we would be happy to offer you a private tour. You could also take a look at Viator’s Chinatown Food Tour.
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Start (A): Cermak-Chinatown CTA Station
(B) Chinatown Pavilion at S. Wentworth Ave & W. Cermak Rd.
Start off at the Chinatown Pavillion, steps away from the Chicago red line. This classic-style Chinese pavilion plays a significant historical role in the planned business and residential relocation of 1912, by Chinese immigrants originally located in the Clark Street/downtown loop area. West of the pavilion, are 19th century-era buildings on Cermak and Wentworth, home to some of Chinatown’s first businesses and enterprises. Today, the pavilion is at the epicenter of Chinatown, with major thoroughfare routes, Chinatown Square to its north, and the Wentworth strip to its south.
(C) Nine Dragon Wall at S. Wentworth Ave & W. Cermak Rd.
Steps from the Chinatown Pavillion is the Nine Dragon Wall. One of only three outside of Beijing’s Bai Hai Park, and one inside an Imperial garden northwest of the Forbidden City, this replica was sculpted in pieces for shipment and reassembly in Chicago. There are over 500 small dragons that accompany 9 larger, brightly-painted dragons. In addition to the number and color symbolism, this benevolent and mystical creature is greatly revered as it symbolizes protection, fortune, and a potent emblem for imperial power.
(D) Chinatown Gate at S. Wentworth Ave & W. Cermak Rd.
As one of Chinatown’s most identifiable and memorable landmarks, the Chinatown Gate was built in 1975 and was considered as the original entryway into Chinatown. Reading from right to left, the characters on the gate read, Tian Xia, Wei Gong, which literally means, “Everything Under The Heaven, For The People,” which was the motto of a key fi gure in modern Chinese history, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It’s design also lends from the basic principles of feng shui.
(E) Chinese Veterans Memorial at S. Princeton Ave, W. Cermak Rd and S. Archer Ave
Continue heading west on until you get to the 6 corner intersection of Princeton, Cermak and Archer. Look across the street of this busy 6-corner intersection and you’ll notice the Chinese Veterans Memorial. It commemorates and honors the service and dedication of the thousands of Chinese Americans in the United States military.
(F) The Phoenix Restaurant 2131 S. Archer; Open daily 9am -9pm & closed from 3pm- 4:30pm
Here comes our first food stop, The Phoenix Restaurant. In the Canton provinces, many people gather at tea houses during the morning and early afternoon to socialize or conduct business over small meals. In China this is most popularly called ‘yum cha’ – going to tea – because the art of drinking tea is so strongly associated with the snack foods served. In the United States, we familiarize with the term dim sum to describe these small meals. Dim sum, literally translated from the Cantonese language, means ‘dot-hearts’ – small treats that touch the heart.
Most dim sum foods are savory pastries, either steamed or fried dumplings, filled buns, and noodles. There are also sweet pastries, vegetables, and meats. The portions are bite-sized, and they are served in small quantities, usually three or four to a plate. This allows you to enjoy a variety of foods, whether they eat very little or indulge in a huge feast
Servers push carts loaded with a variety of foods through the dining room. These carts go passed the customers who keep an eye out for appealing dishes. Once a desired item is in sight, the diner flags down the car and points out what they want. Servers will mark your selections on a sheet kept at your table and you continue to select and eat until you’re done. We recommend the various shumai dumplings, wrapped sticky rice in tea leaves, the congee rice porridge, crispy eggrolls and the sweet egg custard tarts. Here we’ll feast on a traditional dim sum brunch, fondly known as a ‘moving buffet on wheels’. Dumplings, wrapped sticky rice, eggrolls and sweet egg custard tarts. The idea is to choose things continually throughout the meal, rather than to gather all the food at once before eating. Sweets are woven through the savories dishes.
(G) Chinatown Market 2121 S. Archer; Open daily 9am – 8pm
Next stop is the Chinatown Market. If you’re feeling inspired after your dim sum brunch, this stop will meet your needs. At this store, check out the exotic ingredients and items available. They have a wonderful selection of fresh and live seafood, including a variety of fish, shellfish and even turtles! Peruse the aisles for their vast options for fresh and dried noodles, and fresh Asian produce too, all at very reasonable prices.
(H) Tai Fok Hong Company 2155 S. Chinatown Pl; Open daily 9am – 8pm
Every neighborhood needs a pharmacy, but here in Chinatown, folks hit up Tai Fok Hong Company to feel better. This a great boutique that specializes in herbal teas and medicines. A Chinese doctor is on staff to take your ailments, assess what is needed and begins to combine various herbs, dried ingredients and liquids to concoct a customized remedy just for you. We can’t promise it tastes or even smells great, but it’s an interesting stop to check out what ingredients they use. Dried shark fin, anyone?
(I) Sweet House 2143 Chinatown Pl; Open daily 9am – 8pm
Got a sweet tooth? If so, then the Sweet House Candy Shop is the place for you. Here, check out the exotic candies such as preserved plum, sweet rice paper candy, matcha green tea chocolate bars and even dried savory snacks like salted fish and octopus chips! We love the international chocolate bars offering up flavors we don’t have here stateside. Some examples are strawberry and matcha green tea flavored Kit Kat bars!
(J) Joy Yee’s Bubble Tea Shop 2139 S. Chinatown Pl; Open daily 9am – 8pm
You might be parched at this point and if so, make a stop at Joy Yee’s Bubble Tea Shop. If you love smoothies, this place is for you. From over 2 dozen flavors to choose from, you can also customize your ultimate fruit smoothies with the addition of chewy, sweet ‘boba’ or tapioca bubbles. Don’t be surprised if there is a line out the door to dine in the restaurant or even a long line for the window service specifically for bubble tea shakes. In fact, we suggest you use the time in line to peruse the lengthy dine in menu, complete with li smacking photos and the large bubble tea shake listing… or come up with your own fruity combination on your own!
(K) Chinatown Square
Walk over to the center of Chinatown Square and enjoy some free shows or people watching at the Pan Asian Cultural Center. The Pan Asian Cultural Center, which is enclosed by statues of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, is where various concerts and festivals are held. Here you can also check out a 320 sq. ft. mural, constructed of 100,000 individually cut and hand-painted, glass tiles that details the history of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. during the Gold Rush. The square was formerly the sight of the Santa Fe Railroad Yard.
(L) AJ Housewares & Gifts 2125 S. Chinatown Pl; Open daily 9am – 8pm
After enjoying your bubble shake at the square, take a peek into AJ Housewares & Gifts. No need to look any further for that perfect wok or a bamboo steamer set or even a pair of good chopsticks! At this stop, they have all the necessary equipment for learning some Chinese cooking techniques and to stock your kitchen with some affordable housewares. Not exactly comfortable in the kitchen? No worries! You can find a lot of great Asian gifts and décor here too. From bamboo plants to even Buddhas, this place got you covered!
(M) BBQ King House at 2148 S. Archer; open daily
A trip to Chinatown wouldn’t be completed without some Peking Duck. The BBQ King House is spot on with their peking duck and you can either dine in or grab some duck or Chinese BBQ to go. The rich golden color of the crispy, glistening skin makes your mouth water just seeing them hung to dry. Don’t resist. Buy some and take it to go. You’ll thank us later. And you’re welcome.
(N) Saint Anna’s Bakery & Café at 2158 S. Archer; Open daily 9am – 7pm
Finally we will end our tour on a sweet note and take in all the sweet bakery smells. No Chinatown tour is complete without a Chinese moon cake and this location has some of the best the city has to offer! Another favorite item here if you prefer something savory are the bao, savory buns that are either baked or steamed and filled with BBQ pork.
(O) Side Trip – Ping Tom Memorial Park at 300 W. 19th Street
If you’re still up for a side trip off the main Chinatown area, take a stroll over to the Ping Tom Memorial Park. Situated next to the south branch of the Chicago River on the north end of Chinatown, this picturesque 12-acre park, with its Chinese-inspired design is a popular backdrop for residents practicing yoga, tai chi and qigong, or simply seeking a moment of respite and solace. A riverwalk extends north toward the athletic field and field house. During the summer months, a water taxi operates between downtown and in July, the park plays host to an annual Dragon Boat Race Festival where a fast-paced boat tournament, with authentic Chinese-style rowing boats, compete and celebrate this ancient Chinese tradition.
End: You can walk back to the red line on S. S. Wentworth Ave to the cross section of S. Wentworth Ave & W. Cermak Rd where the tour started .
+++Check out our other walking tours of Chicago with a real tour guide.+++