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Top 6 Ethnic Neighborhoods in Chicago

Top 6 Ethnic Neighborhoods in Chicago featured image

America is a country of immigrants, and nowhere is this more obvious than Chicago — a city where individuals from throughout the world settled in culturally familiar enclaves during the 19th and 20th centuries. At first glance, Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods could be oceans away from one another — but most are only separated by a quick subway ride. This blog is a great guide for student travelers and foreign language enthusiasts who want to experience cultural immersion in the Windy City.

German: Lincoln Square

Chicago Lincoln Square

Photo credit: TripAdvisor.com

When German immigrants established this Northside neighborhood in the 1850s and 1860s, they found farmland reminiscent of the Old World. Now a lively community, Lincoln Square’s heritage can be seen in a European-style apothecary from 1875 and Gene’s Sausage Shop — a market place offering immigrants “a taste of home.” German cuisine can be further enjoyed at the Chicago Brauhaus. Even the public transportation has a German flair: a nearby CTA stop is home to a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Greek: Greek Town

Chicago Greektown

Photo credit: greektownchicago.org

During the 1840s, Greek ship captains, food peddlers and restaurant owners congregated in the West Loop neighborhood now known as Greek Town. Greek residents were the first to introduce gyros and saganaki (flaming cheese) to the United States, so it should come as no surprise that Greek Town’s gyro huts are top notch. The National Hellenic Museum tells the story of the Greek Journey, from the ubiquitous cultural influences of ancient Greece to the struggles of Greek immigrants in the Midwest.

Mexican: Pilsen

Chicago Pilsen

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Owing its distinct, Neo-bohemian architecture to its former Czech inhabitants, Pilsen is now one of the largest Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago.  The community’s Latin and Catholic influences are expressed in the colorful murals and graffiti that decorate brick buildings and public transportation facilities. An artistic flair continues at the National Museum of Mexican Art, which is filled with creations ranging from Mayan artifacts to modern surrealist paintings. Don’t forget to take advantage of the neighborhood’s taquerias.

Chinese: Chinatown

Chicago Chinatown

Photo credit: TripAdvisor.com

In the 19th century, Chinese immigrants traveled to Chicago from the Western United States on the First Transcontinental Railroad. Now, tourists can explore Chinese culture as they wander through Chinatown square — a two-story mall filled with authentic Chinese restaurants, beauty salons, gift stores, food markets and pharmacies. Neighborhood highlights such as an entrance gate and the Nine Dragon Wall mirror similar sights in Beijing.

Polish: Polish Downtown (a.k.a. West Town)

Chicago West Town

Photo credit: choosechicago.com

Chicago boasts the highest concentration of Polish-speakers outside of Poland, and though many of have since dispersed throughout the city, in 1890 over half called “Polish Downtown” home. Explore influential Roman Catholic Churches done in the Polish Cathedral Style, discover Polish culture at the Polish Museum of America and enjoy Eastern-European theatrics at the Chopin Theatre. For peirogis, borscht and cabbage rolls, a neighborhood restaurant called Podhalanka is a must.

Italian: Little Italy

Chicago Little Italy

Photo credit: choosechicago.com

When Italian immigrants congregated in this Near West Side neighborhood, Chicagoans fell so in love with the Italian cuisine that it became the most popular ethnic food by 1920. Try it out for yourself with Italian beef sandwiches, traditional pasta and Italian ice.  While Little Italy continues to celebrate its heritage and rich history with establishments such as the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, students from the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago, bring a new and youthful energy to the historic streets.


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