Chinatown Chicago: 22+ Best Restaurants and Things To Do Guide
Fact: Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the most enigmatic, vibrant, and rich areas in our city. It’s the reason why so many of us love to visit its bustling streets. On the other hand, Chinatown can also be a tad intimidating for those who aren’t in the know. You may have your go-to dim sum place, but many of its regional restaurants, small eateries, mom-and-pop shops, and cultural landmarks can seem out of reach. How can you go deeper into this important slice of Chicago’s thriving and diverse community?
This is where we come in.
We’re here to help you push past the barriers and dive deep into the heart of this amazing neighborhood. In this guide, you’ll find some of Chinatown’s most intriguing cultural sights, mesmerizing annual events, and superior culinary spots. Read on to discover the 22+ best restaurants, stores, landmarks, parks and adventures that only locals know about (and tourists totally miss!).
Beyond Chop Suey: Best Places to Eat in Chinatown Chicago
Visitors usually come to Chinatown with one goal in mind: find the best Chicago Chinese food without having to get on a plane. There isn’t one single Chinese cuisine, though, but an enormous variety of regional dishes, secret specialties, and unique eats that are worth devouring. Here are some of our picks.
#1 Eat Where Locals Dine on a Chinatown Food & Cultural Walking Tour
Photo Source: Chicago Food Planet
You have limited time. Your hungry is vast. And you want to try it all. What’s the best way to tackle Chinatown?
Easy. It’s via a Chicago food tour.
Chicago Food Planet’s Chinatown Adventure Food Tour is a fantastic way to get a bite out of everything Chinatown has to offer. Our expert guides will show you some of the hidden gems that the neighborhood has to offer and will teach you the history behind each dish. Between full portions of Hong Kong dim sum, spicy Szechuan noshes and traditional Chinese pastries, you’ll also learn the stories behind some of Chinatown’s most famous landmarks while getting schooled in the art of Chinese food pageantry and customs.
#2 No Matter the Hour, Get Some Dim Sum at Triple Crown
Photo Source: Time Out Chicago
A Chinatown fixture for over twenty years, Triple Crown is cherished for its commitment to day-long dim sum. That means you can satisfy your cravings for shrimp dumplings, fried sesame balls, and puffy egg custard tarts right at 9:00 am or at 2:00 am, before the restaurant finally closes.
That’s not all.
Triple Crown also offers daily lunch specials and a sophisticated menu that highlights their Cantonese and Hong Kong roots.
Insider Tip: The seafood items here are especially worth a try. On our food tour of Chicago’s Chinatown, we recommend the salt and pepper soft shell crab, the pan-fried oyster with egg, and their seafood trio in bird’s nest.
#3 Try Fire Chinese Food at Lao Sze Chuan
Phto Source: Lao Sze Chuan
Acclaimed Chef Tony Hu has received international acclaim for his expertly executed Sichuan dishes at Lao Sze Chuan. The original spot that launched his culinary empire is still humming along on Wentworth Avenue, where you’ll find his signature three-chili chicken, mapo tofu, and more. Known for flavorful sauces, dry roasted chilis, and fiery spices, this regional-style of cooking is sure to satisfy the most adventurous palates.
Be warned though that the must-try dishes we mentioned above are majorly spicy—so come physically and mentally prepared. If you join us for our Chinatown Adventure Food Tour, we’ll guide you through the levels of spicy, spicier and the-spiciest-you-never-even-knew-was-possible.
Insider Tip: Lao Sze Chuan is such a fixture in Chicago’s food scene that we’ve dubbed its Dry Chili Chicken as one of the city’s signature dishes. For the complete list, check out 20+ Chicago Signature Foods You Must Try on Your Next Visit.
#4 Sink Your Teeth into the Best Dumplings in Chicago at Qing Xiang Yuang Dumplings
Photo Source: Qing Xian Yuang Dumplings
For too many of us, the dumpling experience has been relegated to a cheap, quick snack served in Styrofoam. Chicago Chinatown’s Qing Xian Yuang Dumplings, though, elevates the mighty and tiny dumpling to an art form. Each wrapper is filled with the freshest ingredients, the juiciest of broths, and ingenious blends. Servings are made to order and can be either steamed, fried, or boiled.
And for the true dumpling fanatic, the restaurant offers a free—yes, FREE—one-hour dumpling making class, with a maximum number of four participants per session. It might be your first step to mastering this ubiquitous but challenging Chinese dish.
#5 Discover Korea Via Chicago’s Chinatown at Ahjoomah’s Apron
Photo Source: Yelp
Over the years, Chinatown has welcomed the culinary traditions of its Asian neighbors, making it one of the most exciting foodie destinations in Chicago. In addition to Chinese cuisine, visitors can find Mongolian, Malay, Japanese, Vietnamese and many more ethnic eats.
Ahjoomah’s Apron was one of the first Korean restaurants to open in the neighborhood, offering classic dishes that both Koreans and non-Koreans alike will appreciate. If you’re a newbie, its friendly staff and accessible menu will ensure that your first experience with Korean food isn’t the last.
#6 Discover the Other Flat Bread at Xi’An Cuisine
Photo Source: Xi’an Cuisine
If your ideal vision of a Chinatown eatery is small, authentic, and here to knock your socks off with one signature dish, look no further than Xi’an Cuisine. The décor is sparse, the drinks are BYOB, and the TVs are always on.
This all matters very little though when the flavors are so big. Xi’an specializes in flat breads, a regional street food consisting of thin, pita-like breads stuffed with a variety of meats and vegetables. Don’t sleep on the cumin lamb. They also serve hand-stretched noodles, specialty soups and an assortment of small plates that will keep you snacking for hours.
#7 Take a Journey at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago
Photo Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago is home to the only museum in the Midwest that focuses on the Chinese immigrant experience. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago tells the stories of those who came via their permanent exhibit, “Great Walls to Great Lakes,” and their many events, video archives, and collections.
The museum is open every day except Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
#8 See the Other Great Wall of China – In Chicago
Photo Source: Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute
Right on the corner of Cermak and Wentworth, you’ll find a breathtaking wall adorned with nine large dragons and over 500 smaller ones painted in red, blue, and gold. This is Chinatown’s Nine Dragon Wall and one of its most famous landmarks.
Modeled after a glaze-tiled wall in Beijing’s Forbidden City, Chicago’s wall is one of only four other replicas, and every design element is meant to symbolize good fortune and prosperity.
#9 Amp Up Your #Bookstagram at Chinatown’s Public Library
PHoto Source: Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill LLP
Sleek and imposing, the Chicago Public Library Branch in Chinatown is hard to miss. Though the building is thoroughly modern, it is also thoroughly Chinese-American. The two-story building features a partially-covered green roof, Feng Shui-influenced interiors, and awesome views of the skyline.
There’s also more to it than books (though we love those too).
The library hosts a ton of events on Chinese culture like Tai Chi classes, arts & crafts sessions, Cantonese Opera nights, and both English and Chinese-language lessons for beginners.
#10 Enter the Past through the Chinatown Gate in Chicago
Photo Source: Choose Chicago
Looming over the busy streets of the neighborhood, the iconic Chinatown Gate greets residents and visitors to the area. It is also the gateway to Old Chinatown, where you’ll see more densely packed streets, restaurants and businesses than the more orderly Chinatown Square and Archer Avenue.
Fear not, those who enter: An array of thrilling sights, senses, and smells await.
#11 Seek Serenity at Ping Tom Memorial Park
Photo Source: Ping Tom Memorial Park
Located on what used to be an old rail yard, Ping Tom Memorial Park is one of the most peaceful parks in the city. Nestled alongside the Chicago River, the green space has been transformed by the use of Chinese landscape traditions and it boasts some of the most unobstructed views of the Chicago skyline. The lawn may be one of the most romantic spots in the city too—just in case you happen to be with a special someone. Wink, wink.
Insider Tip: Chicago Food Planet’s Chinatown Adventure Food Tour makes for a great date night and includes a stop at Ping Tom Memorial Park. For other date night suggestions, read our guide on the best date nights in Chicago.
Goodbye Trinkets, Hello Treasure: Where to Shop in Chinatown
Whether you have your eye on a waving Lucky Cat, beautiful teacups, or that hard-to-find medicinal herb, Chinatown is a fun shopping destination that offers more than expected. Here are our picks for favorites stores in the area.
#12 Bulk Up at Aji Ichiban Candy Store
Photo Source: Yelp
Fulfill every kid’s dream by heading to Aji Ichiban Candy Store, Chicago’s very own offshoot of the popular Hong Kong chain. Bin after bin of Asian candies, dried fruits, and savory snacks await and are there for the taking.
Goodies are sold pre-packaged, but we recommend shopping by bulk, which will give you a chance to taste everything from Green Tea Kit Kats to crunchy seaweed. Grab a bag, go to town, and embrace the inevitable sugar high.
#13 Find Everything You Need (and Everything You Don’t) at Aj Housewares and Gifts
Photo Source: TimeOut Chicago
The solution to a shopping list that includes one neon stress ball, a pearl necklace, and a high-volume wok? Aj Housewares and Gifts.
Some say it’s overwhelming; we call it comprehensive:
With floor-to-ceiling shelves of home goods, toys, gifts, accessories, kitchenware, plants, décor, lighting, clothing, scroll art, and nunchuks—yes, nunchuks—there’s no way you’ll leave empty-handed.
#14 Make Your Day Sweeter at Chicago Chinatown’s Best Bakery
Photo Source: Chiu Quon Bakery
Opened in 1986, Chiu Quon Bakery can lay claim to being the oldest Chinese bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown. The reason they’ve remained a neighborhood staple may have something to do with their delectable steamed buns, traditionally-flavored cookies and fluffy cream cakes.
Another thing to note: They serve up some of the best dim sum in Chicago too. Their selection of meat dumplings, steamed rice crepes, and marinated chicken feet is an excellent way to start off a day of adventure in Chinatown.
#15 Go Au Naturel at Yin Wall City
Photo Source: Chicago Food Planet
Herb, teas, and powders have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and it’s only recently that the West has caught up to their natural properties. If you’re curious about delving deep into the healing powers of ginseng or simply want superior loose-leaf tea, Yin Wall City should be at the top of your list.
It has all the makings of a traditional apothecary and their friendly staff will do their best to answer your questions.
Paint the Town (Lucky) Red: The Best Events in Chinatown
The corner of Cermak and Wentworth is the heart of Chinatown and of Chicago’s Chinese community. It’s here that you’ll find many of the annual celebrations, parades, and festivities that keep their new and old traditions alive.
#16 Embrace the Lunar New Year at Chinatown’s Chinese New Year Parade
Photo Source: Chicago Chinatown Community Foundation
The Lunar New Year is China’s biggest holiday and the Chinese-American community use the date to celebrate their rich heritage here in Chicago. Though there are a number of events around the city, the biggest parade of all remains the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown.
In addition to marching bands and floats, you’ll see Chinese folk dancers, dragon boats, and ornate displays showcasing symbols of good luck. Get there early: Over 300,000 people attend this colorful, lively festival.
#17 Pick a Team at the Annual Chicago Chinatown Dragon Boat Races
Photo Source: Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce
Chinese dragon boat races are over 2,000 years old and Chicago is lucky enough to have its own annual competition every summer. 32 teams race up the Chicago River in elaborate dragon boats, with one goal in mind: to win money for charity.
Each team is made up of eighteen paddlers, one drummer to keep the rhythm going, and one flag catcher in charge of pulling the flag at the end of the finish line. The festivity also includes booths, entertainment, and activities for children.
Insider Tip: Want other amazing ideas for making summer in Chicago even better? Read our 18+ Perfect Chicago Activities for the Summer.
#18 Be Over the Moon at Autumn Moon Festival
Photo Source: TaiwaneseAmerican.org
The second most important holiday in China may not be as splashy as the Lunar New Year, but it still is a delightful celebration of family, food, and fun. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago hosts a night of music, storytelling, and more at their location.
Not to be missed: the mooncake, a traditional Chinese dessert consisting of a thick pastry filled with red bean or lotus seed paste.
#19 Turn the Heat Up at Chinatown’s Summer Fair
Photo Source: CCC Foundation
Earning its slot in the busy summer festival season, Chinatown’s summer fair distinguishes itself from the rest by starting off with a lion dance procession.
The rest of the day is a dizzying adventure for the senses, with booths offering samples of some of the neighborhood’s tastiest dishes, unique cultural exhibits, and even a kung fu demonstration.
Lights, Lanterns, and Late Hours: Best Chinatown Spots at Night
The sun may be setting in Chicago, but that’s no reason to say goodbye to Chinatown. The neighborhood is still a great place to enjoy an evening thanks to fabulous eateries, beautiful views, and the ready-to-party karaoke scene.
#20 Toast with Another Type of Bubbly at Joy Yee Chinatown
Photo Source: @eater_chicago
Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink consisting of black tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca—and at Joy Yee, they’ve put their own spin on it. Fans of the cult-favorite will rejoice at their lengthy boba menu, which includes classic variations as well as freezes, smoothies that come with the tapioca pearls.
That’s not all.
Joy Yee also offers sizzling meat dishes, slurpy noodles, and enough shareable plates to make it a popular spot for a group outing. The restaurant stays open until 10:30 pm too, making it a great place to either start or end the night.
#21 Sing Your Shinzo Out at Sakura Karaoke Bar
Photo Source: Urban Matter
If you’re looking for a ruckus of a good time, Sakura Karaoke Bar is exactly where you’ll find it. This legendary Japanese-style karaoke bar includes a stage, a dance floor, two separates bars and eight VIP lounges, for those who prefer to serenade their friends in private.
With over 100,000 of America and Asia’s greatest hits, you’ll be able to live out both your rock star and k-pop dreams.
#22 Marvel at Chicago’s Breathtaking Beauty on the Chinatown Water Taxi
Photo Source: Chicago Tribune
You can take the Red Line to Chinatown, but here’s a tip we tell our Chinatown Adventure Food Tour guests.
The absolute best way to get to Chinatown during the summer is Chicago’s Water Taxi. What it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in stunning beauty.
The route takes passengers along the Chicago River and in plain view of some of the most famous architectural landmarks. It’s an exquisite view any time of day, but an absolute showstopper at night when the city lights glide you back downtown.