Heading to Chicago? When people visit this magnificent city, they tend to congregate downtown in a neighborhood known as the Loop, taking in sights like “The Bean,” along with the parks and the famous museums.
And while those attractions are well worth your time, there’s a hidden explosion of culture just a few L-train stops away, and it’s not to be missed.
Like the rest of the country, the history and energy here are rooted in the immigrant experience. The next time you’re in the Windy City, discover the people who make it unique by exploring the following three neighborhoods.
The Newest Hot Spot: Ukrainian Village
Although only 160 acres in size, this west-side neighborhood was home to nearly 30,000 Ukrainian immigrants a century ago. Today, it remains a hub for Ukrainian life, with ornate churches, a language program for kids and several museums and cultural centers.
But it’s not just history you’ll find here. This neighborhood is fairly booming among young professionals, too — most likely due to the abundance of trendy but affordable restaurants and bars and the unique 19th-century brick and stone flats available to rent.
Or maybe it’s due to the many cultural activities available right outside their doors. The nearby Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center, for example, features up-and-coming Chicago artists, while the Chopin Theatre hosts a wide variety of plays, music, film and literary events throughout the year.
Vibrant Mexican Flavors: Pilsen
Splashed with brightly painted buildings and murals, is one of the most colorful and lively neighborhoods in the entire city. After World War II, many Mexican immigrants moved to this lower-west-side spot, and then their children and grandchildren stayed.
Which means the area remains rich in culture to this day. Head to the National Museum of Mexican Art or check out the huge street murals portraying Mexican history. For fashionistas, there is also a smattering of great vintage stores.
And, of course, you can’t forget the food: traditional bakeries, restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine and street vendors hawking elotes (corn cobs), tamales and horchata.
Jazz Culture and Gangster Ghosts: Uptown
This north-side hood was a local hot spot back in the 1920s and ’30s, and is finally regaining its footing today. Boasting an array of fabulous Art Deco architecture, as well as two historic theaters, Uptown is an urban designer’s dream.
And don’t miss an evening at Green Mill, a century-old jazz club that feels like it hasn’t changed since the Prohibition era (Al Capone used to hang out here!).
When it comes time to eat, you’ll discover many different ethnic influences. That being said, the area is probably most famous for its Asian restaurants, especially Vietnamese — you just might find the best pho you’ve ever had here.