Chicago 'hoods: best places to eat, chill, & explore
Chicago. The third largest city in the United States. The cultural epicenter of the Midwest. Home to some of the most storied sports franchises in the country, both for being good and bad. Site of the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
Chicago has many claims to fame, and because of that, many things to see. The big things to see are known by any person who visits the city: Navy Pier, the Mag Mile, the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, the many fantastic museums. But for someone new to living in the city, it can be difficult to find out about the many awesome, off the beaten path attractions that the city has to offer. The longer one lives in the city, the more one realizes that the big attractions of the city are its neighborhoods. Chicago is home to 77 distinct neighborhoods, each offering a different culture, vibe, and feel. As a new Chicago local, here are a few neighborhoods you should definitely visit. This is by no means an extensive guide. The neighborhoods mentioned have so many more things to check out other than what is mentioned here; these are just intended as places to start at before exploring. There are also many other fantastic neighborhoods to check out, all it takes is a U-Pass and the yearning to explore!
IIT’s neighbor to the West, Bridgeport is an often overlooked Chicago neighborhood. Home to the city’s Irish, the White Sox, and the Daley family that ruled Chicago for over 50 years, Bridgeport is a quickly up-and-coming neighborhood. Many IIT students call Bridgeport home, and it’s home to many fantastic restaurants and stores.
Make sure to check out Pleasant House Bakery on 31st and Morgan. An English-style bakery, Pleasant House serves up many different kinds of meat pies, and is known as being one of the best cheap-eats restaurants in the city. Pleasant House is actually considered the second best restaurant in Chicago on Yelp.com.
Just a few doors down from Pleasant House is the home of Bridgeport Coffee. Bridgeport is a cozy coffee shop open since 2004. Considered the best coffee shop in Chicago by many, Bridgeport Coffee roasts its own beans and works hard to support the community it calls home. If you’re a coffee fan, you’ll love Bridgeport Coffee.
Once an ethnic neighborhood overlooked by tourists and locals alike, Wicker Park has grown into a trendy neighborhood that can now be called the center of indie culture in the city. While some parts of the neighborhood take the indie culture a step too far and turn it into snobby-hipster culture, the neighborhood is home to many unique shops and restaurants unlike any other in the city. Wicker Park is located just off of the Damen Blue Line stop.
Book lovers will enjoy Myopic Books, a used bookstore on Milwaukee Avenue, just east of the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Damen Avenue, and North Avenue. Upon stepping into Myopic, you are greeted with a labyrinth of books. Everything has been done to cram as many books into the store as possible, which results in a store full of nooks, crannies, odd hallways, and secluded reading areas. It’s an exciting place to find a book, read, and relax. The books are also reasonably priced, and the staff is knowledgeable, making Myopic a great bookstore for someone looking for a new book to read but not sure where to start.
Wicker Park is also home to The Wormhole, a 1980s themed coffee shop. The Wormhole is just a few blocks Southeast from Myopic. Decked out with everything from movie posters to lunchboxes to a full size replica of the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, The Wormhole is an excellent place to enjoy a cup of coffee. Not only do they serve a great cup of joe, the Wormhole has several TVs with Nintendos hooked up so you can play all the video games you played when you were a kid. They also have plenty of table space and fast, free wireless internet for anyone looking to work on some homework while they sip their coffee.
Located on the lower West Side of Chicago, Pilsen is considered by many to be the center of the Latino population in Chicago. Because of this, there are many restaurants and stores that are excellent purveyors of the Latino culture to the entire city. It’s quite easy to get to Pilsen from the Loop, one only needs to take the Pink Line to 18th, or the Orange Line to Halsted.
Pilsen is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art. A small gallery that focuses on teaching visitors about Mexican and Mexican-American culture and history through art, the museum is a very interesting place to visit. Its collection is quite vibrant and is fascinating to those who both know Mexican art well and those who don’t. The collection is well-curated, and all of the pieces serve a purpose in advancing the goal of the museum to educate. The museum is free to get into, and is located a few doors East of the intersection of Wolcott Avenue and 19th Street. The museum is just a few blocks away from the 18th Pink Line stop.
Being home to such a strong Latino community, it is no surprise that Pilsen has a large assortment of Mexican restaurants and taquerias. An excellent restaurant to check out is the Restaurante Nuevo Leon on 18th Street between Ashland Avenue and Laflin Street, which is just a few blocks east of the 18th Pink Line stop. Nuevo Leon is a family-run Mexican restaurant that has been open for over 40 years. Dishing up authentic Mexican dishes that are both delicious and affordable, the restaurant is very popular and viewed as one of the best in Pilsen. Make sure to get a glass of the horchada – it is to die for!