"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chinatown/Armour Square

The Breakdown
Downtown is only a couple Red Line stops away.
An overview: In regards to just about everything, Chicago always boasts “one of the nation’s best”.  Its Chinatown is no exception.  It has everything you’d expect from a Chinatown: eccentric shops, ornate gateways, dim sum.  Yet, it has a Midwestern sensibility about it too.  Surrounding the strip on Wentworth, and the charming Chinatown Square pedestrian mall along Archer, are modest households and streets brimming with activity.

Interestingly, Chinatown and Armour Square (representing virtually all of the Chinatown neighborhood and the mile and a half south of it) are about as tucked away as you can get within Chicago.  They are surrounded by expressways, the River, and copious amounts of train tracks.  Thanks to the Red Line though, accessing Chinatown, and one of Chi-town’s two major league baseball clubs, is no difficult feat.

The boundaries: Armour Square is one of Chicago’s 77 defined community areas.  Its boundaries are essentially 18th Street to the north, Federal Street to the east (just east of I-94), and Pershing Road (39th Street) to the south.  To the northwest, Armour Square is bounded by the Chicago River, and to the west is Stewart Avenue and the railroad tracks.

Entry gate to Chinatown as seen from the "L".
Chinatown is the neighborhood making up the northern half of Armour Square.  The dividing line between Chinatown and the rest of Armour Square is 26th Street.  The extension of Ping Tom Memorial Park, immediately to the north of 18th Street, is considered part of Chinatown, but is the only part of the neighborhood located within the Near South Side community area.

Population make-up: A funny thing happened in Armour Square.  While Chicago lost 200,000 residents in the past 10 years, Armour Square was one of seven community areas that grew by over 10%.  At only about one square mile, it is one of the City’s smallest community areas, and yet it added 1,411 residents since 2000, bringing Armour Square to a total population of 13,443.

The demographic breakdown for 2010 isn’t available yet, but as of the 2000 Census, Armour Square was the only predominantly Asian community area in the City at 61% of the population (7,300 residents).  Although Asians make up three-fifths of the area’s population, there are community areas with larger Asian populations (notably West Ridge with over 16,000 residents of Asian heritage).  Among the other ethnicities represented in Armour Square, whites made up the next highest percentage at 19%, then blacks at 17%, and then Hispanics at just under 4%.

Armour Square’s median income in 2000 was $22,750, making it one of the ten poorest community areas in the City.

A brief history: Armour Square initially grew during the Civil War as an influx of western Europeans moved in, establishing a blue-collar culture that exists even today.  Contrary to popular belief, the South Siders don't play ball in Bridgeport.  The original Comiskey Park was built in Armour Square, at 35th and Shields, in 1909.  Although they now occupy a newer stadium right next door to the previous one, the White Sox still play at home in Armour Square, and brought the Windy City a World Series Championship in 2005.  Boo-yeah!

Right around the time the Sox moved into Armour Square, so did the City’s Chinese population.  They moved from a small section of the Loop to the area around present-day Cermak and Wentworth, in search of lower rent.  Their continuous presence and investment has established one of the nation’s largest Chinatowns, a major destination for both residents and tourists in pursuit of great food and unique, affordable shopping.  The south-side Chinese influence continues to spread geographically, with many of the growing population moving into neighboring Bridgeport.

Getting there: By “L”, the Red Line is your best option.  Cermak-Chinatown drops you right off in the heart of Chinatown, while Sox-35th takes you to the southern portion of Armour Square and drops you right off at U.S. Cellular Field and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus.  You can also take the Green Line to 35th-Bronzeville-IIT and walk west along 35th to get to Armour Square.

By bus you have a few east-west options: Cermak (21), 35th Street (35), and Pershing (39).  Going north-south, your lone direct option is the Clark/Wentworth bus (24).  Also, the Archer bus (62) is a northeast-southwest option to access Chinatown.
There is also a new Metra station slated to open in Summer 2012.  The 35th Street/”Lou” Jones/Bronzeville stop on the Rock Island line will place you just east of Armour Square at 35th Street and the Dan Ryan expressway (I-90/94).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Michelin Guide - Chicago Restaurants

Back in November, Michelin released their first ever guide for Chicago restaurants.  This is a prestigious honor for the Windy City and its restaurants.  New York and San Francisco are the only two other cities in the United States to have previously been bestowed such an honor.  The fact that the guide was made is vindication that Chicago is one of the country's, and world's, top restaurant destinations.  Whether you're familiar or not with the Michelin guides, the fact of the matter is this: the restaurants represented by stars are not the sort of places that your average Chicagoan can afford to eat at on a weekly basis.  But as Chicago magazine points out, it's great PR for the City and its dining community.  And frankly, while most of these restaurants are rather expensive, they are worth saving a little extra money and visiting maybe once or twice a year (would you be willing to stay in one weekend a year to save up some extra money to eat in one of the top restaurants in Chi-Town?)

What we've done with this entry is listed the restaurants by neighborhood.  Sure, about half are in the Near North Side.  However, there are GREAT restaurants to be found in the West Loop, Wicker Park, and even Logan Square.  We'll start out with the list by star rating (3 stars being one of the top restaurants in the world, but even a 1 star rating puts the restaurant in very elite company).  Twenty-three restaurants in Chicago were honored with Michelin stars.  Let's take a look where they're at...