The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

How to Chinatown: Food, festivities, and Chicago history

Lydia Shultz
Red lanterns hang across Wentworth Avenue, the main street of Chinatown, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Celebrated on Feb. 18, Lunar New Year takes over the Chinatown district during the commemoration.

Less than 3 miles south of downtown Chicago is a world filled with bright red architecture, dragon emblems and the aroma of steamed dumplings.

Chicago’s Chinatown was established in 1912, and is home to over 20,000 Chinese residents. 

Chinatown was initially a settlement area for Chinese immigrants, with most coming between the 1950s to 1960s, and is now a popular destination for tourists and foodies alike. 

There are currently over 150 businesses in the neighborhood — from bakeries selling handmade pork buns to Chinese grocery stores and tourist shops — with new establishments continuously opening up. 

Chinatown is a central part of the ethnic kaleidoscope of Chicago. It is one of the 77 neighborhoods that contribute to the city’s diversity and is near other cultural areas such as Pilsen, a predominantly Latino community, and Bronzeville, with its abundance of African-American businesses. 

A trip to Chicago is incomplete without exploring at least one of the neighborhoods. As a Chinese American, Chinatown is my personal favorite. 

Here are my recommendations for a day trip to Chinatown from my experience as a professional food tour guide and knowledge based on countless trips for dumplings. 

The Nine Dragon Wall glows in the sun on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, and is one of only three replicas outside of China, according to Choose Chicago. A staple of Chinese culture, it has stood in Chicago’s Chinatown location for over two decades. (Lydia Shultz)

Nine Dragon Wall

Just across the street from the main gate, lies a smaller reproduction of a 15th-century mural in Beijing, China.

It is easy to miss after getting off from the CTA but the ornate wall deserves a stop to admire the piece’s intricacies.       

Erected in 2004, the mural portrays nine glazed tile dragons —  a lucky number in Chinese culture. 

The Nine Dragon Wall is one of only three replicas outside of China, according to Choose Chicago. 

Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum

Moon cakes, barbecue pork buns and egg tarts, oh my! 

Through the pagoda-resembling entrance to Chinatown’s old business district is the oldest Chinese bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown.  

With cases full of different savory and sweet options at this cash-only joint, there is something to delight everyone’s taste buds.

The Nine Dragon Wall glows in the sun on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, and is one of only three replicas outside of China, according to Choose Chicago. A staple of Chinese culture, it has stood in Chicago’s Chinatown location for nearly two decades. (Lydia Shultz)

Chinatown’s Underground Food Court

Uninformed visitors who pass HeungSeng Square will never know that the best dumplings are tucked away at the back of the building’s underground food court.

There are several good restaurant options in the cafeteria-like dining area, but the specific dumpling restaurant is run by a Chinese couple from the Northeast part of China who make mouth-watering Chinese street food. 

Their kitchen is open for viewing so customers can see them hand-rolling the dumplings from dough wrappers and stuffings. 

Chinese American Museum of Chicago

Delicious food may be the main reason why so many visitors flock to this neighborhood — but increasing historical and cultural knowledge should be another. 

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago, which opened in 2005, showcases different exhibits throughout the year that aim to spread awareness of Chinese Americans’ experiences and culture. 

Their newest Lunar New Year Exhibit showcases the mythological origins of the 12 zodiac signs, including 2024’s zodiac sign — the dragon — who is “a creature of authority, power and intelligence,” said Stephen Cheng, the museum’s docent.

Stephen Cheng poses next to a dragon statue for the Chinese American Museum’s newest exhibition for the Lunar New Year. 

Sweet Cafe Chicago

One of the newest additions to Chinatown is owned and run by Sophia and Karen Chem, two sisters from Southeast China. 

They opened the cafe in September 2023 to serve Cantonese food in a more informal atmosphere than other dining options in the area. 

Karen said she wanted the cafe to be a warm, welcoming place to enjoy Cantonese specialties.

Sophia adds that unlike other restaurants in Chinatown, which only serve dim sum specials until late afternoon, Sweet Cafe offers dim sum such as fresh rice crepes, steamed dim sum and classic handmade buns all day. 

Mango Mango Dessert

Instead of indulging your sweet tooth cravings at one of the many boba shops in the Chinatown plaza, try out a refreshing Hong-Kong inspired dessert at Mango Mango.

The original location opened up in New York City’s Chinatown but has now expanded to over 30 locations throughout the United States. 

There is a variety of sweet treats to choose between — from black sesame paste soup to crepe cakes — but their specialty is their mango juice dishes with fresh fruit. The perfect way to balance out salty Asian food!

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Two workers prepare handmade dumplings in their open viewing kitchen area on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Many restaurants are run by local families and residents of Chinatown. (Lydia Shultz)

After eating a bit too much, take a short walk to one of the best parks in the city for picturesque views of the skyline.

Ping Tom was a civic leader who advocated for the creation of a park in Chinatown. Just three years after he passed, the once-abandoned rail yard was transformed and opened to the public in October 1999. 

Be sure to try the water taxi that takes you to or from downtown during the spring and summer months.

88 Marketplace

If you still have the energy, be sure to stop by Chicago’s largest Asian supermarket. 

Get the groceries you need to recreate your favorite meals of the day, and if your stomach allows, the food court on the second floor alone is worth the fifteen-minute walk from the heart of Chinatown. 

More dumplings, anyone?

Chinatown is undoubtedly a celebration of culture year-round. But this month is particularly significant because February 2024 marks the Year of the Dragon based on the corresponding Chinese Zodiac sign of the lunar calendar. 

Lunar New Year is officially on Feb. 10 and is celebrated in Chinatown on Feb. 18.

Enthusiasts can also partake in preliminary festivities at Depaul’s annual Lunar New Year celebration on Feb. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lincoln Park Student Center.

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