Best Bites Review: Chicago Chinatown Food and Walking Tour

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The Chicago Chinatown Food and Walking Tour is a cultural experience where you can savor foods from various provinces of China.

I’ve visited the neighborhood several times and meandered from store to store, but this food and walking tour gave me a forkful of knowledge about Chinese foods that I never knew existed.

Chicago’s Chinatown Food Tour Review

Stepping into Chicago’s historic Chinatown neighborhood feels like being transported to an entirely different world. The red lanterns sway gently overhead, the aroma of sizzling woks and fragrant spices wafts through the air, and the sounds of bustling markets and animated conversations, sometimes in Cantonese or Mandarin, surround you.

This lively pocket of Chinese and Chinese American culture is a buffet made for the senses – and a food tour is the perfect way to fully immerse yourself in the culture. The last time I was here, I explored a few places for boba tea. It always hits just right.

If you haven’t made up your mind on whether you should take this tour, just do it!

On the Chinatown Food and Walking Tour, you’ll explore the neighborhood’s best eateries, historic sites, and cultural gems with a knowledgeable guide leading the way.

From steaming dim sum bursting with flavor to unique culinary specialties you may have never tasted before, this tour is an edible adventure you won’t soon forget.

Check tickets for Chicago’s Chinatown Food and Walking Tour

How to Get to Chinatown

The easiest way to get to Chinatown is by using the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) or L train. You can take the Green line from downtown to the 22nd Street/Chinatown stop.

Or you can take the Red line to the Roosevelt stop, then transfer to the Green line which will bring you to the Chinatown stop.

The Meeting Point

dim sum in bamboo basket
Shu Mai, Shrimp & Scallop Dumpling, Goji berry & Vegetable Dumpling

The tour is planned around the lunch or dinner hour. We made our reservation at 11:00 AM on Sunday. The trains were running a bit slow which made me anxious.

Fortunately, we arrived by 11:20 at the Phoenix Restaurant, 2131 S. Archer Ave. which is about a 4-minute walk from the L stop.

The guides greeted us and immediately helped me to relax after all the stress and worry of getting there on time.

After everyone checked in and signed a waiver, we went upstairs where our tables were already set with a hot pot of tea waiting to be poured.

As we went around the table and introduced ourselves and got to know one another, we were served three different dishes of dim sum in a bamboo basket and man was I ready to chow down!

Dim sum is from the Cantonese province and means “touch the heart and mind”. Traditionally, it is meant to be a snack drank with tea but you can make it an entire meal if you want.

While seated the guide gave some history about Chinese immigration to America and how they settled in major US cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

Memories of Chicago’s Chinatown during my youth flooded my mind because the area has since experienced so much growth. I mentioned to someone that I remembered when there was nothing at Chinatown Square. Later, the guide confirmed that there used to be nothing but train tracks at the square.


The Walking Tour

woman standing in chinatown square plaza

The first part of the tour, we walked across the street to Chinatown Square where you can find lots more restaurants and retail stores. One of the highlights of this square are the 12 large statues representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

We had time to find our zodiac statue and take a photo. The guide instructed us to subtract one year if we were born in January, because the Chinese New Year ends in January, not December. Who knew?

From there we journeyed through the walkways of Chinatown to sample foods from other parts of China, including the Xi’an province, which was influenced by the Middle East because it is close to the Silk Road.

cumin and lamb sandwich
Cumin and Lamb Sandwich

What impressed me most is that the owners of these restaurants originated from various provinces in China and started these establishments because they wanted to share a taste of their hometowns.

Every dish was unique. There was a variety of meats including beef, pork, chicken. Some of the dishes served included only vegetables or shrimp. And of course, you can expect delicious noodles from one of the top five noodle restaurants in Chicago!

The food is authentic and prepared with traditional recipes and techniques passed down through generations. It was evident that these small establishments are where locals cook, and locals eat.

Next, we ventured into the Sichuan province (also spelled Szechuan) for which the food preparation is renowned for its fiery and tingling spiciness.

The chefs in this southwestern Chinese province masterfully wield an array of tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and incendiary chili peppers, crafting dishes that pack a powerful punch of heat and boldness.

fried chili chicken
Fried Chili Chicken

As I savored the authentic flavors my taste buds were set ablaze by the distinctive numbing and spicy sensations that define Sichuan cooking. With each bite, the tingle on my tongue intensified, creating an array of surprises in taste.

Believe me when I say that the chefs don’t cut corners or cater to westernized palates – they let the bold, complex flavors of regional Chinese cuisine shine through in every dish. Just don’t eat too many red chili peppers!

From the perfectly seasoned chili chicken to the hand-pulled noodles with savory braised beef, you can taste the passion and pride in every bite.

This commitment to culinary heritage makes the Chinatown Food and Walking Tour an incredible and educational experience that connects you to the culture behind the flavors.

There was so much more fascinating history about immigration of Chinese into America that our knowledgeable guide shared, but I don’t want to spoil everything and ruin the surprises for you.

However, if you’re wondering whether this tour is worth it – absolutely, without a doubt!

The walk is at a relaxed, leisurely pace, allowing you to soak in the sights and sounds of Chinatown without feeling rushed. And the food is amazing!

Pro Tip: If you’re exploring Chinatown with a group or your travel companions while on this tour, it’s a wise idea to designate someone to get in line at Chiu Quon Bakery as soon as you arrive to pick up your dessert. This strategic move will secure your place in line for more sweet treats at this iconic establishment, which happens to be the oldest bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown.

There’s no need to fret if you miss the initial opportunity, you can always return after the tour. Our knowledgeable tour guide shared that this bakery was a favorite of former President Barack Obama. Baked goods were often delivered straight to the White House during his time in office.

Things to Know Before You Go

egg pastry in front of bakery sign

The tour is about 2.5 hours long.

You will visit 5 restaurants where the food is served while you are seated at a table. The bakery is the only place where we had to grab it and go.

There are opportunities to take photos along the way. Don’t miss the “You Are Beautiful” sign during your walk on Wentworth Ave. It’s a great spot for a family photo.

The first 4 stops will offer one serving of food. However, at the last stop, there are more servings available to fill your belly and you may need to take some home!

The tour is managed by Bobby’s Bike Hike. We were delighted to hear of a bonus at the end of the tour to take advantage of a bike rental.

Final Thoughts about Chicago’s Chinatown Walking and Food Tour

dining area of chinese restaurant

Overall, this is a great outing on a nice sunny, 70-degree weather kind of day. I had a chance to meet other travelers as near as Chicago and as far as Canada.

One aspect I truly appreciated was AJ’s excellent communication skills as our guide. On many tours, if you’re not right beside the guide, you risk missing crucial details and insights they share.

However, AJ demonstrated exceptional awareness, ensuring that everyone in our group was within an optimal listening distance before delving into his commentary. He never forged ahead while speaking, which could have left stragglers out of the loop. Instead, AJ was attentive and consistently checked that we were all together and ready to hear his captivating narrations.

And of course, the true star of the show is the food itself. Your taste buds will be treated to an extraordinary culinary adventure!

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