16th Street murals and food in Pilsen

Squirrely Summertime Chicago Bucket List Adventures

In this post: Water Taxi to Chinatown, things to do in Chinatown, 16th Street murals and food in Pilsen

On my visionboard sat a photo that said “eat around the world.” I love me some great food, even better if it’s food I’m not use to eating or can’t get where I live – which is almost everything, unless it’s pizza. I can totally get pizza where I live. When I was making my bucket list for the summer I wanted to make sure I added tons of ethnic neighborhoods that were good for their food! Two of those places were Chinatown and Pilsen. If I couldn’t go to China or Mexico, the next best thing was going to where their people gather in my city.

Now here’s a funny story about Chinatown, I poke fun at the fact that back before GPS’s were as technologically advanced as they are today, I would almost always get lost in the city and wind up either in Chinatown or on Lower Wacker Drive, completely lost. That was my first run-in with Chinatown, but clearly when you’re looking for an ethnic neighborhood you really can’t get anymore ethnic than this neighborhood.

Taking the Water Taxi to Chinatown, Chicago

When I was doing my research on things to do and see in Chinatown, I honestly wasn’t coming up with a whole lot other than eating and seeing a lot of the architecture, which was totally cool with me! One thing I did read though was that taking the water taxi on the Chicago River to Chinatown was for sure the preferred method (read: touristy lol) way to go. I’ve never ridden the Water Taxi, so that was a no-brainer. My neighbor Jakara and I headed out to the city on Sunday afternoon for a little Sunday adventuring, and thank goodness for her – this squirrel flies by the seat of her pants, while my neighborly co-pilot is much more of the planner. All I know is that we hopped on the water taxi on the Chicago Riverwalk and away it took us to Chinatown!

When we got off the boat, I had that “ok cool, what do we do now?!” thought so to Google I went. While I knew there wasn’t a ton to do in Chinatown, I knew there had to be a few things we needed to see while we were there. The first thing we needed to see was Chinatown Square, which felt like it took you right into China with tons of restaurants and businesses in what looked like a small outside mall. We were inundated with food choices and since we were on an adventure I wanted to make sure I tried something new. Granted, one of the reasons I didn’t really have any interest in visiting China was because of the abundance of dead animals just hanging around, like ducks. The Chinese love duck and they’re not afraid to hang the carcasses in their restaurants, which makes people like me want to lose their lunch, so I had to put on the blinders in certain spots. One thing I kept noticing was “dim sum” – I had heard of it, but if I’m being honest I had no idea what it actually was, and I knew I hadn’t tried it before, so that was my new goal for the food portion – try me some dim sum!

Uhhh, yeah, ewww. I’m sure it’s some people’s jam, but it certainly isn’t mine. Now I know! We tried 2 different restaurants and I will tell you, crab rangoon at the local Chinese restaurant doesn’t compare AT ALL to what I tasted at Ken Kee Restaurant. Best EVER. When you go, order the fish fillets with sake sauce, trust me on that!

After we were so stuffed we decided to walk it off and go see some of the architecture in the neighborhood, so we consulted our little Chinatown map and saw that the Chinatown Community Center housed not only the Pui Tak Center, which is Chinatown’s only historical landmark, but also a summer fest! Away we went, seeing a lot of the architecture and ornate beauty the neighborhood offered. I’m not a history buff, I can’t talk to you in terms of what all these buildings are, the history behind them, but I can for sure appreciate how authentic they felt.

Pilsen, Chicago and the 16th Street Murals

A short Uber ride took us to the Pilsen neighborhood, which has recently been touted as the new up and coming neighborhood in the city. Pilsen made my bucket list because of the Hispanic community and thus, amazing food, that was located there. One of biggest things to see in Pilsen is the 16th Street murals, which seem to stretch forever. These murals go in patches it seemed – certain patches were in amazing shape, like they were painted recently, and others look as though they had seen better days, and others still look like they had been “tagged” by graffiti. What I noticed about the Pilsen neighborhood really was the painted art on buildings – it was EVERYWHERE. While we were walking we even saw a woman painting a wall with art, it was so beautiful to watch and made me appreciate the scope of what these artists are able to do. I even found a squirrel!! Who would’ve thought?!

While we weren’t really “hungry,” we couldn’t go to Pilsen without getting tacos, and apparently there was a really amazing coffee place that I just had to try! Off to Cafe Jumping Bean first, where we had a drink that was a Mexican hot chocolate with espresso and damn was it good!! It was by the suggestion of the guy behind the counter, who lucky for me was totally up to play my game of “if I only came here once ever…. what would I need to have?” This little shop was hopping with people meeting, socializing, doing work on their laptops and people like us who were just looking around appreciating the space.

From there we decided to check out Decolores restaurant as our last stop for tacos. We were so full by that point that we really only had room to split a chicken taco dinner, but was it worth it! Their guacamole appetizer was really incredible also.

With full tummies and sore feet, we caught an Uber back to our parked vehicle and headed home. It always amazes me how much time I could spend in the city without realizing it!

If you adventure out to these areas and find some really incredible places to try, please leave me a comment and let me know where you go so I can make sure to try it next time I’m in the area!


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