Maybe you’ve been to Chinatown — chowed on dim sum, wandered into teashops, possibly you’ve even set the night on fire at a karaoke lounge. But have you visited with your kids? This is a great time for a family trip to the ‘hood, which hugs downtown and is right off the Red Line. Along with great eats, shops and photo opps, the Dragon Boat Races are on their way, and will put excitement in the air. Here’s all the need-to-know info to plan your excursion.
photo: Chinatown Dragon Boats
Hello, Dragon Boats
Dragon boat racing has been around for 2,000 years and Chinatown has hosted the Chicago Dragon Boat Race for Literacy for the last sixteen. This year’s event takes place June 25 on the South Branch of the Chicago River, along the shore of Ping Tom Memorial Park. The sport is a thrill to watch — the racing is intense as 26 competing teams paddle decorated boats, often neck-to-neck. This year, it’s about more than just fun and games: local literacy, cultural and diversity programs receive proceeds from the event. The race’s opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. and kick off a full day of events. In addition to the on-water action, all the children will be thrilled to hitch a ride on the free Chinatown trolley, take the Chicago water taxi or participate in storytelling, arts and crafts. For more info on all the happenings, go to chicagochinatown.org.
photo: Chinatown Public Library
While You’re in the ‘Hood
Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch
A new 16,000-square-foot, two-story Chinatown Branch opened to the public last year, which serves as a culture and information center for those who seek information about the Chinatown community or Chinese culture. Earlier this year, the new architecture addition won a national design award from American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association, which draws even more attention to the new great landmark.
2100 S. Wentworth Ave.
EK Houseware & Gifts
This emporium is the place to stock up on traditional straw hats, beautiful paper fans, jade jewelry and Chinese candy. In other words — things you never knew you always wanted. It’s spacious and stroller friendly, which is not something that can be said for most jam-packed Chinatown shops.
2258 S. Wenthworth Ave.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
Stretching the east side of the Chicago River in Chinatown, Ping Tom is a community treasure. Its shady playground and open, grassy area are great spots for a play break and offer great views of the city skyline.
300 W. 19th St.
photo: Joy Yee’s Noodles
Joy Yee’s Noodles
Bubble tea paradise, here you come. Standing in Chinatown Square, you won’t miss it since there is always a long queue extending out of the door. Joy Yee is must-stop for this traditional beverage that includes tapioca balls and any imagined combo of fruit, from avocado to lychee. If you want your kiddo to get his daily dairy, you’ll love that many of these swap out the tea for milk. The bubble tea menu is a whopping two pages! Even better, it always stays open late.
2139 S. China Pl.
Chiu Quon Bakery
Chinatown’s oldest bakery has been sending sweet aromas in the air for 30 years. On any given day, more than 100 treats tempt from inside glass cases. Imagine BBQ pork buns, sesame cookies, custard hand pies and lotus bean mooncakes — the kind of stuff that sends your taste buds on a far-flung adventure.
2242 S. Wentworth Ave.
photo: Lao Sze
Lao Sze Chuan
Maybe you’ve heard the hype? Maybe you’ve heard of Tony Hu empire? At this restaurant treasure, the food is as outstanding as its critical accolades. Its friendly servers are quick to suggest items from the massive menu and help guide your selections so you best enjoy your meal. (We love the diced chicken with straw mushrooms for the kiddos.) Families are made to feel at home and fortune cookies are plentiful! It’s worth the wait or just as good carried out.
2172 S. Archer Ave.
Upscale but kid friendly, MingHin is a beauty. Its dark wood and red lacquered accents make you feel like you’ve slipped away somewhere special. It’s best known for dim sum, but they have a vast dinner menu. If you’re not well versed in Chinese cuisine — or have a picky kid that you need to convince — you’ll appreciate the menu photos that accompany most items. Being adventurous will pay off.
2168 S. Archer Ave.
photo: Chinatown Water Taxi
TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT
If you’re driving, you’ll find ample street parking during the week. Weekend parking can be a bit trickier, but there are two parking lots that have your back. Chinatown Parking (2130 S. Wentworth), across from the Chinatown gate. Participating restaurants will validate for this lot making parking for three hours just $2. Hunter Parking (Wentworth Avenue & 24th St.) doesn’t offer validations but is relatively inexpensive.
An easy alternative to driving is the El. The Red Line stops just outside Chinatown (Cermak-Chinatown is the stop). Facing west on the platform you’ll get a great view of the neighborhood. Take a right off the stairs and you’re there. The Red Line runs all day between Howard Ave. and 95th St.
Even better, if you’re feeling adventurous, go by boat. The Chicago Water Taxi makes several stops a day in Chinatown. Get the schedule online at chicagowatertaxi.com.
Do you have a favorite spot in Chinatown? Tell us about it in the Comments below!
— Anli Chen