The first Greeks to inhabit Chicago came by ship in the 1840’s. They worked hard to establish themselves once in Chicago and eventually many of them became restaurant owners. This fledgling community was originally concentrated around Harrison, Blue Island and Halsted. Since the majority of this population was Greek, the area quickly became known as Greektown. Unlike other ethnic neighborhoods around Chicago, the current inhabitants of Greektown are not predominantly Greek. The neighborhood is diverse and urban; professionals, families, Greeks and non-Greeks all co-exist. Yet despite the diversity of the inhabitants, living in Greektown lends itself to participating in Greek nationalism. The area celebrates its Greek identity constantly; restaurants display bright Greek flags, signs are in Greek as well as in English, and many buildings, reminiscent of Greece itself, are painted a pure white. On this tour, you’ll get a taste of the Greek culture and we’ll help navigate you through the Greektown strip of South Halsted Street…
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Since 1971, the owners stay true to the founding principles of great food, great service, and value here at Greek Islands. This restaurant is a popular place for romantic dinners, fun get togethers and even family reunions! Start the tour here to fill up on some great Greek food. You’ll notice the generous servings, welcoming hospitality and have a fun experience. A favorite appetizer is their Flaming Saganaki – a show in of itself! And if going in a big group, opt for a family menu where a multi course will be served. Regardless of what you order, know that the use products shipped from Greece and use the highest quality extra virgin olive oil, superior wines the best cheeses, herbs, and seafood.
Stop B – Athenian Candle Co. (300 S. Halsted St)
After a filling meal, take a leisurely stroll south on Halsted St. down to the Athenian Candle Co. The Athenian Candle Co. is a three generation, family-owned business established over 90 years ago. Founded by Themistocles and Efthimia Godelas, the family tradition has stayed alive as the only original Chicago Greek Town proprietorship existing on Halsted Street today. The company continues under Thopmas and Jean (Godelas) Paspalas and their three children. Athenian Cande serves the liturgical needs of the Greek and Orthodox communities locally and throughout the United States, as well as churches of all demonimations. At this shop, they manufacture a variety of hand-dipped tapered candles in house. Pick up a few to take home to set the mood!
If you’re up for a slight pick me up, cross the street and check out Meli Café & Juice Bar. They serve up some amazing breakfasts and brunch (you should come back for!), but their juice bar is especially good for a fresh and tasty drink to go. Made with fresh, seasonal fruits, their extensive drink list makes it hard to choose which drink to order. But regardless of what you pick, you can be sure it’s made fresh with pure ingredients. If you’re a coffee fan, you’ll also appreciate their espresso bar too!
Stop D – Elea Mediterranean Food Market (309 S. Halsted)
A few doors down, is our next stop at Elea Meditteranean Food Market, you will find a plethora of wonderful olives, cheeses and yogurts. They have quite a selection of authentic cheeses along with popular deli items too. The owners are most gracious and helpful – feel free to ask them questions about Greek cuisine and culture… they would love to share their suggestions and offer some cooking tips and tricks.
Stop E – Artopolis (306 S. Halsted St.)
We’ll cross the street again and hit up another favorite Greektown spot for baked goods. Artopolis is made up of the Greek word “Artos” for bread and “Polis” for town… hence, a wonderful bakery. For centuries, the ancient Greeks believed that bread was the beginning for all great meals. It makes sense as Artopolis has plenty of breads to compliment your meals. Dine in or take it to go, you’ll find fresh baked breads and Greek pastries like baklava and cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Stop F – Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop (322 S. Halsted St)
Offering the finest in Greek baked goods and pastries in Chicago since 1974, the Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop is yet another bakery to check out. Here, you will find more Greek pastries such as Baklava, Melomakarona, Amygdalota, Kourabiethes and more. We especially love their cookies including the sugar almond crescents, shortbreads, and chocolate cookies.
Stop G – National Hellenic Museum (333 S. Halsted St)
Our last stop is not necessarily food related but definitely one to visit to really appreciate the community. The National Hellenic Museum is America’s only national institution that interprets the American experience through the history of Greek immigrants and the contributions of Greek Americans while celebrating their rich Greek history and culture from ancient times to the modern Greek American experience. Chicago has one of the world’s largest Greek populations. But Greek or not, this journey touches everyone. Greek history and culture is at the very foundation of western civilization, and continues to influence our lives to this day. Our government, language, architecture and theater all have their roots in ancient Greece. The 40,000-square-foot space is both contemporary and timeless and the best part is that the Museum connects all generations—past, present and future—to the rich heritage of Greek history, culture, and art. Definitely take your time walking through and be sure to check out the upstairs exhibit!