It never fails. Whenever I hear people discuss the best spots to visit in Chicago, most times, they immediately mention places north of Roosevelt Road. There’s no doubt that downtown is a mecca for great shopping, restaurants and cool landmarks. And neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Bucktown and River North definitely have their own flair. But I’m a southside girl. I’d be remiss if I didn’t let people know (or at least remind them) that there are must-see places in my neck of the woods, too. They range from “hole in the wall” restaurants, to historical beacons of the community with significant stories to tell. Either way, the south side is special. All of it. So, whether you’re visiting from out of town or looking to be a tourist in your own city, here are some cool places to check out in some of my favorite southside neighborhoods.
This area was dubbed the “Black Metropolis” back in the 1920s because it was best known for its successful black artists, musicians, scholars and business owners. Today, this revitalized neighborhood continues to preserve its roots with beautiful art galleries, restaurants and monuments. Carver 47 Juice and Experiment Bar (located inside of Little Black Pearl) is a hip cafe and community center dedicated to the contributions of George Washington Carver. Eat light and enjoy a delicious smoothie or pig out and order the waffle topped with toasted walnuts and a side of turkey bacon. From the urban oasis of fresh veggies grown out back, to the cool paintings on the wall created by the centers’ artists, this place is unique to say the least. When you’re done, head over to Boxville, (the city’s first street food market and shopping mall made up of old shipping containers) and find out how an empty vacant lot turned into a community marketplace. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a little history, take a stroll along King Drive and check out the former homes of Ida B. Wells (3624 S. King) and Gwendolyn Brooks (4259 S. King).
When you hear Hyde Park Chicago, you automatically think University of Chicago students, President Obama’s home and, of course, Valois restaurant. But there are a lot of other cool and interesting places to explore in this culturally diverse neighborhood. One example is the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House. This U.S. historic landmark was completed in 1910 and is now considered one of the most important structures of the 20th century. Check out FLWright.org for tour information. Hyde Park is also home to some great restaurants, many of them new, but Virtue has set itself apart by making Eater’s national list as one of the top new restaurants in the country. With its distinct approach to Southern cuisine, I can see why it’s been a hit since it’s opening in 2018. Try the mouth-watering beef short ribs dish or the shrimp with cheddar grits and tell ‘em I sent you. If you’re looking for strictly vegetarian or vegan options, head over to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat. As a self-proclaimed carnivore, I was surprised at how tasty the meatless menu items were. Items like Philly cheese steaks, vegan chicken legs and “Little Italy lasagna” are some of the popular dishes served.
The fact that First Lady Michelle Obama and Kanye West once called this neighborhood home is one of the many reasons this area is special. Places like the South Shore Cultural Center and Rainbow Beach are neighborhood staples. But the Stony Island Arts Bank is probably one of the most exciting additions to this community in the past five years. Urban planner, Chicago resident and visionary Theaster Gates bought this deteriorating bank from the city for $1.00 and transformed it into an unbelievably beautiful space to exhibit black art, history and literature. From its musical archives of house music legend Frankie Knuckles to its extensive book collection of Ebony and Jet magazines, this 20,000 square-foot building is nothing short of amazing. After touring a space of this size, you’re bound to work up an appetite, so head over to Surf’s Up near 71st and Yates. The restaurant is owned by special education teacher Vanetta Roy who decided to put her love of Louisiana style dishes to good use. The fried green tomatoes and shrimp po’ boys are delicious. But their popular Hennesseywings will change your life.
Despite the bad rap the media gives this neighborhood, there are emerging businesses here and its people are resilient. One of the most impressive things about this area are the amount of people (many of them who grew up here) willing to reach back and help breathe life back into the community. Growing Home is a non-profit urban farm that provides job training to people who have difficulty finding employment for various reasons, be it childcare, medical or criminal. They teach agriculture skills at their beautifully grown farm located right in the Englewood neighborhood and 100 percent of the profits from the produce sold goes back to helping the people that they employ. I recommend taking a tour of the space. It is the first and only USDA certified organic high product farm in the city. Another great spot giving back to the community is the Kusanya Cafe. Started in 2013, this coffee shop serves up breakfast and lunch to the community along with their very own coffee from their on-site roasting room. But the cafe’s most important function is to provide a safe gathering space for Englewood residents through community events.
This one is my favorite because I was practically raised here. The historic Pullman district has such a rich history that it would take an entire article to cover it all. This industrial community was established by George Pullman in the 1800’s and is now (thanks to President Barack Obama) considered a U.S. National Monument. The town was originally built as a hub for the Pullman Palace Car company, which provided rail lines and sleeper cars all over the world. George Pullman sought out former slaves to work his cars, (otherwise known as The Pullman Porters). You can learn more about their fascinating stories and their contributions at the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum. After your tour, head over to the Pullman Cafe. This quaint space was opened in 2015 to give people a place to have a light meal after touring the area. Indulge in their delicious pastries, sandwiches and salads, or you’re welcome to have a strong cup of espresso and just relax.
Tiffany D. Smith is a journalist and travel blogger from Chicago. Visit www.theloveoffoodandtravel.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.