Argyle Street Chicago: get on the train for authenticity and ass cake

I recently asked for some advice from fellow blogger Sophia Hsiao, whose gorgeous nature photography has me longing to visit Taiwan.  In response to my inquiry about Taiwanese cities to visit, Sophia recommended a few and added “Each city has its streets”.  Sophia then listed the best streets in her recommended cities.

As a smart traveler, Sophia knows you can’t just show up in a town—you’ve got to know where to go once you get there.  Every large city seems to have that one predictable street, the street with the H&M, The Body Shop, Sephora and the usual fast food chains.  Trust me—without a plan you’ll find yourself aimlessly wandering this street, wondering why you bothered with an expensive plane ticket only to walk by yet another Subway and Zara.

Chicago has many boring streets: I often think the 11th plague has descended on the city in the form of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.  Don’t let that keep you away though, because Chicago also has vibrant, unique and delicious streets.  My happy street is Argyle Street.  Here’s how it can be your happy street too:

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Take the Red Line train North and get off at the Argyle station.  Step out onto Argyle street and start walking three blocks East from Broadway to Sheridan.  The aroma of roast duck will pull you forward, past the junkies bumming train passes, past stencil-eyebrowed Vietnamese ladies in bedazzled polyester pant suits and plastic-stacked high heels, past 20 something Asian hipsters with excessive hair gel.

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Spend some time with all the murals, like this one telling the history of immigrants on Argyle Street (apparently a horse with a freakishly large head one made his way here too).

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Every mural painter should have a bubble butt…

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Many residents of Argyle Street are Vietnamese-American.

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Browse a Vietnamese grocery and wonder what they do with all those dried fish.

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Argyle Street is sometimes known as New Chinatown.

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I lived just around the corner from Argyle Street for a couple of years and never stopped giggling at the business names during my daily walk to the train station.  (Sadly, Hung Low Restaurant is now closed).

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Admire the elegant terracotta buildings that line Argyle Street.

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Panhandlers in front of Foremost Liquors will ask for exactly the amount change they need to buy their next 40 ounce beer.  Come on, can’t you help out with 46 cents?

Now, once you reach the corner of Argyle and Sheridan hang a sharp right because it’s time for some entertainment with Argyle Street’s own Mr. Entertainment.

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Mr. Entertainment has delivered song sensations to swooning Argyle Street fans since 1987.  Living in an SRO on the corner where he sings, Mr. Entertainment can sometimes be glimpsed through a second floor window eating his lunch while simultaneously crooning into his foil covered microphone.  People, that’s what I call dedication.

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Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, pull yourself away from the musical stylings of Mr. Entertainment and walk one block North to the corner of Sheridan and Winona.  This area is heavily Pakistani-American, and when I lived on this block I was constantly hungry from the smell of fried spices.  Shan Grocery is the place to scarf down a Pakora Curry while watching World Wide Wrestling with guys in shalwar kameez .

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Or perhaps you would enjoy a steaming bowl of phở—if so, return to Argyle Street, walking West, and take your pick of phở shops.

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Me?  I usually head straight to Ba Le at the intersection of Argyle and Sheridan for a Bahn Mi sandwich and an undefinably weird tapioca desert.  Their prices are cheap and the Bahn Mi are crumbling stacks of tangy yumminess.

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Carnivores should cross the street to Sun Wah.  You know that roasting duck ambrosia that infuses Argyle Street?— it’s coming from here.  You and your three most chow-houndy friends can order a Peking duck dinner and waddle out onto Argyle Street feeling greasy and pleased with yourselves.

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If you still have room for desert, your last stop is Chiu Quon Bakery, right across from the train stop.  While this bakery sells an impressive variety of treats, HOB and I always order what we affectionately call “The Ass Cake of Chinatown”.  Sorry, I don’t know the real name—just point at what looks the most like angel’s ass and savor it while you wait for the return train at the Argyle Street station.

So there you have it—no chain stores, cheap and tasty food, original street art and free entertainment, all for the price of a train ride.  You’re welcome (and you owe me a Bahn Mi).

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9 comments

  1. Filing this away for next time I get to Chicago!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Smart lady! Hope you visit soon.

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  2. Chicago has never been high on my list to visit, but this is a fantastic write up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Two Small Potatoes. Chicago has world class architecture and music, theater, opera and museums. Sadly it seems like most tourists just see a small area, eat mediocre deep dish pizza and leave.

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  3. Great piece with excellent photos that really capture the colorful ambience of Argyle & Sheridan where I lived for about a year in the early 2000s

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh great that you used to live at Argyle and Sheridan! Do you remember a large group home for people with mental illnesses at that corner call the Somerset Home? (People used to chain smoke in front of it all day). Now it’s a EuroTrash-decorated apartment complex—weird!

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  4. Omg I do remember that place! But the former residents were all moved? To where, I wonder. And now all those apartments are pretty expensive, I’ll bet.

    My girlfriend and I would go to the gay bar on Sheridan to watch the Academy Awards because we didn’t have a TV. Is that still there do you know? I haven’t been in that neighborhood since 2002 probably

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The gay bar is Big Chicks and yes, it’s alive and well!

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  6. Thanks for reminding me, I’m truly laughing out loud, what a great name for that bar!

    Liked by 1 person

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