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A person stands watch over a crowded sidewalk.
Chicago’s Chinatown continues to grow, a contrast to dwindling enclaves in America.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

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24 Hours of Eating in Chicago’s Chinatown

A South Side native offers a photo tour of his favorite restaurants and haunts

Chicago’s Chinatown, where both my parents worked, holds a special place in my heart. I remember weekends spent behind the counter at my dad’s store on Cermak, or how my mom would be recognized and thanked — she works as a loan officer and helped many families in the community purchase their homes — when we’d be out shopping for groceries or having a meal. Chinatown is where my love of food began. It’s where I first understood the meaning of umami (via Seven Treasures’ wonton noodle soup) and came to appreciate the perfection that is a mango boba smoothie on a Chicago summer day.

A view of Chicago’s skyline from the south, with a bridge drawn near the Chicago River.
The view of Chicago’s skyline from Ping Tom Memorial Park is breathtaking.

Chinatown moved to the South Side in the early 1900s, and the area has continued to grow with the community spilling into neighboring Bridgeport and Pilsen. Armor Square, the neighborhood that includes Chinatown, continues to grow, while other Chinatowns across the country dwindle.

My dad’s store was called Prospect Merchandise Service, and while he sold a variety of goods, it mainly functioned as a local Western Union hub where people would send money to their families and relatives. Beyond its personal significance to me, Chinatown is a vibrant cultural community that continues to be home to many Chinese immigrants. Walk down any of its streets and you’ll see the numerous restaurants and storefronts that also serve as community hubs. Generations have passed through here, each one finding a different version of Chinatown to call their own. Today’s version is ever-expanding, where you’ll find a plethora of overseas hot pot chains, restaurants serving unique regional cuisines, and boba shops, all sitting adjacent family-run businesses that have been a part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember.

It is my hope that you’ll find this guide and these photos helpful. This small tour is not meant to be comprehensive, and I am by no means an authority on all things Chinatown. Instead, I offer a collection of favorites, icons, and hidden gems that I’ve loved for years and am delighted to share with you. Thank you for coming to see Chinatown through my lens, and I hope you’ll visit soon to experience it in person.

Jack X. Li is a Chicago photographer whose work has appeared in various publications, including Eater Chicago.

A pedestrianized road with people and vendors.
Chinatown’s streets are filled during large events.
A vacant storefront with a sign reading “Won Kow Chinatown Parking.”
The former Wow Kow, a famous Cantonese restaurant, now has a new tenant.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

9:30 a.m.

Stop in at one of the many bakeries for some pastries before you go explore the sights. I’ve always loved egg tarts (regular and Portguese-style) at Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum. If you’re with a larger group, there’s always the option to sit down at Phoenix Restaurant (opens at 10 a.m.) for some excellent dim sum.

Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum
2253 S. Wentworth Avenue
A storefront that reads “Chiu Quon.”
A pastry display case.
Egg starts in a styrofoam container. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago
A wall of framed pictures.

The owners of Chiu Quon have earned their keep within the community and have even met President Obama.

St. Anna Bakery
2158 S. Archer Avenue
Two folks in front of a pastry counter.
Find milk tea, buns, cakes, and more at St. Anna.
Phoenix Restaurant
2131 S. Archer Avenue
A building with a restaurant and cars parked in front.
Phoenix is one of the most prominent dim sum restaurants in the area.
A traditional dim sum dining room.
Phoenix is a traditional dim sum spot.

11 a.m.

Explore Wentworth Avenue and its surrounding streets, taking note of the murals and Chinese-inspired architecture that are scattered through. I’ve always marveled at the beauty of the Pui Tak Center, which hosts community programming and ESL classes. Heading north, you’ll find the Chinatown Gate, its inscription translating into “The World Is For All.”

A garage door that has the word “Lee” written in script.
Many immigrants copy customs to prove they belong in America.
Red gates in front of apartments.
Chinatown has been on the South Side since 1912, and immigrants have built communities in the hundred years since.
A mural of Chinese warriors.
The murals in Chinatown are unique.
The Pui Tak Center with traditional signs of Chinese architecture.
The Pui Tak Center hosts community programs and ESL classes.
A street corner with a Chinese-style gate with a pagoda.
Chinatown Gate reads “The World Is For All.”
A street with restaurants.
Three Happiness is one of the oldest restaurants in the area.

1:30 p.m.

Grab a boxed lunch at Gourmet, located on 23rd Street just off Wentworth. A local gem where the portions are generous and the menu is expansive, my recommendation is the steamed chicken with green onion sauce or the fried chicken.

Another lunch spot to consider is Moon Palace Express, where I had many a kung pao chicken lunch as a kid. Owned by the Wang family and located on Cermak next to the fire station, the front has been converted into a takeout-only spot and the back of the restaurant has been renovated to become Nine Bar, Chinatown’s first cocktail bar. The bar serves snacks like pork katsu sandwiches and loaded fries that might appeal more to the grown-up children of immigrants.

Take a stroll to nearby Ping Tom Park, which opened in 1999, and enjoy a picnic while you take in great views of the city skyline.

Gourmet Food
210 W. 23rd Street
An old storefront for a restaurant.
A person looking to finish a food order at a restaurant.
A contained with chicken cut up and scallions over rice in a sauce.

Steamed chicken with green onion sauce.

Moon Palace Express, Nine Bar open in the evening in the back.
216 W. Cermak Road
Two people in front of a brick corner with a mural.
Daughter-and-mother, Lily and Jennifer Wang, pose around the corner from their restaurant and bar, Moon Palace Express and Nine Bar.
A smattering of Chinese food on a counter.
Moon Palace Express is a strong lunch choice.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
1700 S. Wentworth Avenue
An underpass with kids playing and adults looking on.
Ping Tom Memorial Park was established in 1999.
A man holding a Chinese-stringed musical instrument while enjoying the day sitting on a riverside bench.
A man holding a Chinese-stringed musical instrument while enjoying the day.

3 p.m.

Park to Shop is the biggest grocery store in the main part of Chinatown, part of a national chain. Visitors may want to venture slightly beyond the border to 88 Marketplace. The multi-level complex includes a grocery store and a food court with equally amazing dim sum, barbecue, and even sushi. The ground floor includes sit-down restaurants — a Chinese steakhouse (Holu) and hot pot (Qiao Lin Hotpot).

Park to Shop Supermarket
520 W. 24th Place
A storefront of a grocer.
Park to Shop is part of a Midwestern chain.
88 Marketplace
2105 S. Jefferson Street
A storefront that reads “Jefferson Square” in large letters.
A shopper wearing a mask holding a plastic bag of veggies.
A food court with folks waiting for their food.

The food court at 88 Marketplace features a variety of restaurants, from Cantonese to sushi.


5 p.m.

Explore Chinatown Square, an outdoor mall built in the late ‘80s, and be sure to stop by Joy Yee’s Noodle Shop for the a refreshing boba tea smoothie.

If you need a break and a quiet place to relax, be sure to check out the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library, a stunning work of architecture that serves residents of all ages and features art from local artists.

Chinatown Square
2133 S. China Place
Chinatown Square is an example how the area has shifted.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago
Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch
2100 S. Wentworth Avenue
A round glass building
The Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library is stunning.
Joy Yee in Chinatown Square
2139 S. China Place
Folks waiting in line at pickup windows for drinks.
Joy Yee Noodle is a favorite for cold drinks.

7 p.m.

Head to Triple Crown for family-style dinner and enjoy the views from their second story dining room overlooking Wentworth Avenue. The menu includes dim sum, sizzling platters of beef, and great seafood options as well. Second-generation owner Spencer Ng has partnered with numerous local brands (like Marz Community Brewing, the Korean-Polish-American operation; they’ve collaborated on a special Triple Crown beer) to expand the iconic restaurant’s presence in Chicago.

Another great option is the newly-redesigned Ken Kee, with its neon signage reminiscent of a Hong Kong cafe. I’ve been going there for years, but even I couldn’t deny the deliciousness of the newly added custom noodle bowls.

Triple Crown Restaurant
2217 S. Wentworth Avenue
A restaurant’s storefront with a red awning.
Three cans of beer in front of a sizzling platter of peppers and beef.
Two bamboo steamers with dumplings.

Cute dim sum is available.

Ken Kee Restaurant
2129 S. China Place
A neon lit restaurant.
Ken Kee has been recently renovated brought back the large menu and boat noodles.

Midnight

If you should find yourself in Chinatown later in the evening, there are many options for food. One of my favorites is Chi Cafe, a Hong Kong-style diner that is open until 1am. The Portguese chicken and XO noodle rolls are must-haves.

Open until 2, Seven Treasures on Wentworth is a Cantonese-style diner with satisfying late night eats. In college, I would drive 20 minutes to Chinatown just to get the wonton noodle soup and the BBQ pork with fried egg over rice, colloquially known as the 554.

Chi Cafe
2160 S. Archer Avenue
Chi Cafe recently opened a second location in Lakeview.
Customers seated in a dining room ordering food.
A quality late-night stop.
Dish with fried chicken smothered over sauce with rice.
Portuguese chicken
A dish of stir fried noodles with bean sprouts.
XO noodle rolls
Seven Treasures
2312 S. Wentworth Avenue
A restaurant store front a night with a blurred car and yellow lit awning.
Seven Treasures is a late-night haunt.
A bowl of noodles being raised with chop sticks.
The wonton noodle soup.
A platter with red dyed Cantonese style pork with a fried egg.
Barbecue pork with fried egg.

Seven Treasures Cantonese Restaurant

2312 South Wentworth Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 225-2668 Visit Website

Qiao Lin Hotpot

2105 S. Jefferson Street, Chicago, IL 60616 Visit Website

Phoenix Restaurant

2131 South Archer Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 328-0848 Visit Website

Chiu Quon Bakery

1127 West Argyle Street, , IL 60640 (773) 907-8888 Visit Website

88 Marketplace

2105 South Jefferson Street, , IL 60616 (312) 929-4926

Chi Cafe

2160 South Archer Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 842-9993 Visit Website

Triple Crown Restaurant

2217 South Wentworth Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 842-0088 Visit Website

Ken Kee Restaurant

2129 S. China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (312) 326-2088 Visit Website

Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum

2253 South Wentworth Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 225-6608 Visit Website

Nine Bar

216 West Cermak Road, , IL 60616 (312) 225-4081 Visit Website

Marz Community Brewing

3630 S. Iron Street, Chicago, Visit Website

Joy Yee

2139 South China Place, , IL 60616 (312) 328-0001 Visit Website

Holu

2101 South Jefferson Street, , IL 60616 (312) 291-8472 Visit Website

St. Anna Bakery

2158 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616 (312) 225-3168
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