- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Greektown to Chinatown, from the Polish Triangle to Little Italy, Chicago has a wealth of ethnic neighborhoods to explore.

Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods, and Patricia Sullivan, manager of the city’s Chicago Neighborhood Tours program, says visitors need to leave the tourist-heavy Loop and Michigan Avenue areas to see the different ethnic and cultural corners of the city.

“They’re distinct, and they’re beautiful,” Miss Sullivan says. “The architecture is different, as are the restaurants and the stores. It’s really a melting pot.”

By no means an exhaustive list, here are highlights of some of Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods:

• Chinatown: Visitors to this neighborhood on Chicago’s near South Side will be greeted by the large red-and-green Chinatown Gate on Wentworth Avenue and Cermak Road. Explore Chinese tea shops, herbalists and blocks of stores selling Chinese slippers and robes, trinkets and bamboo plants. Restaurants range from nicer sit-down eateries to small takeout establishments. The neighborhood is home to the annual Chinese Lunar New Year parade with marching bands and floats. The community also hosts a summer concert series that includes traditional Chinese music in Chinatown Square along with a Chinatown summer fair each July. For more information,visit www.chicagochina town.org.

• Greektown: It’s clear you’ve reached Greektown when you read the signage on the local Walgreens drugstore - it’s written in Greek. Greektown stretches along Halsted Street from Van Buren Street north to Washington Street in the city’s West Loop neighborhood. Fancier restaurants with names like Pegasus, Parthenon and Santorini serve saganaki (fried cheese) and spanakopita (spinach pie). They sit alongside bakeries, candle shops and corner fast-food eateries offering takeout gyros. The cultural center is the National Hellenic Museum, where visitors can see folk-art and textile exhibits. The museum also boasts an oral-history center where listeners wearing headsets can listen as Greek immigrants tell their stories. Each August, the neighborhood hosts a Taste of Greece festival. For more information, visit www.greektownchicago. org or www.nationalhellenic museum.org.

• Little Italy: Chicago’s Italian community is centered along Taylor Street on the city’s near West Side, bordered by the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Fancy Italian restaurants that serve pasta and steaks line Taylor Street alongside takeout pizza and sandwich eateries. Among them are the red awnings of Al’s Italian Beef, where you can get beef sandwiches with peppers and cheese. In the summer, lines form outside Mario’s Italian Lemonade for frosty to-go Italian ices. The neighborhood also is home to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (www.niashf.org), where you can see boxer Rocky Marciano’s 1952 championship belt and Mario Andretti’s race car.

• Mexican: Those wanting to capture Mexican culture can tour the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods on Chicago’s near south and west sides. In Pilsen, start on Halsted and 18th streets and walk west to Ashland Avenue. Carlos Tortolero, president and founder of the neighborhood’s National Museum of Mexican Art, says visitors will find affordable taquerias, art galleries, churches and shops selling religious goods. For restaurants, try La Cebollita for sopes (dough patties with various toppings) or Taqueria El Milagro. In Little Village, an arch welcomes visitors with the words “Bienvenidos a La Villita” at 26th Street and Albany Avenue. Walk west along 26th Street, and the area stretches for more than a mile. The neighborhood has more than 70 Mexican restaurants along with candy stores, bakeries and shops selling Mexican-style dresses, boots, hats and belts. For more in- formation, visit www.lavillita chamber.org/ or www.national museumofmexicanart.org/.

• Polish: There are several Polish areas in Chicago and the suburbs, but the main neighborhoods are along Milwaukee Avenue. Start at the Polish Triangle - the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Division Street and Damen Avenue. At the beginning of the last century, this neighborhood was crowded with Polish immigrants and businesses, says Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America. The museum is a few blocks southeast on Milwaukee Avenue, where visitors can see Polish folk costumes and crafts, among other exhibits. A good place to get a meal nearby? Podhalanka on Division Street is a small kitchen serving Polish food. For more information, visit www.polish museumofamerica.org/.

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