Wednesday, May 4, 2016


In mid-April my husband and I decided to visit Uptown. We’d read about some vintage shopping in the area. The beautiful weather had warmed to the 60s, after a chilly spring and some late season snowfalls.

We randomly chose the Argyle stop to exit the red line L train. I didn’t realize it was “Asia on Argyle” with a cluster of Asian restaurants and groceries. It’s as large as some entire Chinatown neighborhoods in other cities.

The population was diverse. Everywhere we traveled in the neighborhood we saw families, and groups of people, out enjoying the spring sunshine. Every block had people walking.

Broadway is the main commercial strip. I picked a Chinese dim sum restaurant for lunch. It was similar to a classic cafeteria, except the food was rolled on carts from table to table, instead of a buffet line. The waiter realized it was our first visit. He offered explanations about what was on the plates.

The waiter suggested a delicious sticky rice, with a meat center, steamed in Lotus leaves. We sampled several dishes. I particularly liked the pork dumplings. However, I don’t think I’ve had a dumpling I’ve ever truly disliked.

After lunch we walked over to the lake. I noticed some older buildings remain in the neighborhood, while others have been replaced with high rises, particularly from the 1960s and 70s, closer to the water. It seemed like an area of urban renewal projects, although the Encyclopedia of Chicago notes that the residents worked hard to avoid widespread displacement like Hyde Park.

We walked under a freeway bridge. One side of the underpass was lined with a tent city of homeless who lived permanently under the bridge. I’d read the city is supposed to be working on finding homes for people living in tent encampments around the city. The need for low income housing far exceeds supply in Chicago. This is particularly true because so many of the SRO hotels in the city have been demolished or converted to other uses.

Encyclopedia of Chicago describes Uptown as a former entertainment district for the city. The SRO hotels, which used to be clustered in the neighborhood, would have served singles and young couples, wanting an urban lifestyle instead of maintaining a house, similar to the micro-apartment concept today. (SRO hotels were more carefree, as they didn’t have kitchens and might include housekeeping.) Later the SRO hotels were used by migrant workers and as cheap housing to prevent homelessness.

Walking the neighborhood, we noticed a concentration of social services I don’t tend to see in other areas. We noticed housing for substance abuse services, the ill, and elderly. Walking past a doorway of an apartment building I saw plants which had been ripped out of their decorative pots. Dirt was scattered across the steps. Even in some of the roughest areas of the city I haven’t observed destruction of landscaping.

When we reached the lake the parks, trails and ball fields were full. A couple games of girls’ soccer were in progress. I watched a father teach a young boy how to fly a kite while pushing a baby along in a stroller, a group of preteen boys fishing, a couple strolling hand-in-hand along the rocks, small groups sitting on blankets, and a line waiting for food from the taco truck. Summer was in full swing.

Walking back through the neighborhood to the train we stopped at an Asian grocery. Like so many ethnic markets around the city they had great prices. I stocked up on 3 varieties of noodles, tea, and frozen pre-made pot stickers.

Until now I’ve resisted the notion of Chicago fusion cooking. I will look at a menu and think, “Those foods should not live together on the same plate.” I decided to take the plunge. I cooked Canton style eggs noodles from the market. I then added spaghetti sauce with onions, peppers, kielbasa and ham. It was strangely good. The noodles were light and brought out the flavors of the sauce. We ate the leftovers immediately.

I wouldn’t make the long cross town trip to eat at some of Chicago’s more authentic restaurants in the neighborhoods regularly. I’m glad I’ve done it once, but really, I tend to prefer “Americanized” versions of the foods closer to home anyway. I like the thin crust pizza I’ve had in South Loop better than what I tried at a liquor store in Albany Park, for example.  

At the same time, the small groceries are a different matter. Some neighborhoods have unique and inexpensive foods I can’t seem to find anywhere closer to our apartment. While the French and Maxwell Street Markets are a good start, too bad Chicago doesn’t have a giant public market once a week for shopping from small vendors across the city.

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