Photo by Sam Tucker

The history of University Village and Tri Taylor represents a community before my time as well as hope for communities facing similar historical forces. These two neighborhoods represent two sides of a coin of Chicago’s housing segregation and economic development. There have been multiple lifetimes experienced in both areas, with many changes occurring over the last decades thanks to changing city policy. The neighborhoods might feel removed from their past as they climbed the social mobility ladder in the past century.

Depending on the generation, both neighborhoods symbolize a reflection of the past and fight for the future of a community’s identity or history. Generational perspectives on these changes might vary depending on class, race, age, and socioeconomic status. For some, economic development represented progress while others perceived it as threatening livelihoods. Before being renamed University Village, this neighborhood was Little Italy and extended into Tri-Taylor. Many immigrants and working-class families built homes all the way down to Taylor Street. The neighborhoods were strong webs for recent immigrants from Italy and nearby European countries at the turn of the century. 

However, many were displaced, and their diaspora continued elsewhere after the construction and expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus, the Illinois Medical District, the Eisenhower Expressway, and policy shifts in public housing in the area. These developments also rippled through nearby Black and Latinx communities. Policy and economic forces uprooted many families. However, the sense of community continued, and the immigrant spirit of entrepreneurship remains strong. Generations of Italian families and businesses are continuing the legacy of their families and culture. Immigrant and second generation-based businesses have remained constant since Little Italy was renamed. The neighborhood expanded its “village” across continents, flavors, and languages. 

Walk down Taylor Street today, you’ll still find the same street dotted with independent businesses and local restaurants serving nationality-based food. Tri-Taylor retains its power as a hub till today and symbolizes a bridge to access the rest of the city. Both neighborhoods vibrantly uphold their community, diversity, and strong community connections despite historical shifts. Today, University Village and Tri-Taylor represent historical and cultural villages that will never be forgotten—only transformed.

Jocelyn Vega is a first generation Latina dedicated to intergenerational healing and ancestors.

  • Best Trendy Meal on a Stick: Kong Dog

    According to my twelve-year-old niece, Adeline, Korn Dog is “very good and my first experience at a new type of place.” Kong Dog is not local to University Village but has become a popular spot for many in the area. With multiple locations in Chicagoland and across the United States, Kong Dog was a summer rage this year. Lines stretched down the block when they first opened their University Village location. When you enter, you’ll be greeted with plasma TVs advertising their food like an action film. 

    Kong Dogs are prepared by first determining if you would like a meat or cheese dog, and topping preferences. They additionally offer half-and-half options for those who want to mix either types of meats or cheeses. Once you pick your preferences, it is deep fried in front of you. The smell is incredible if you’re a deep fried foodie. The restaurant also has an extensive boba and drink menu, featuring iced ube lattes, brown sugar bubble milk tea, and ginger ale. 

    The original cheese Kong Dog was Adeline’s favorite, and she complimented the Cheeto one as second best. Despite some initial hesitancy, she also liked the sweet potato option that balanced savory and sweetness. Adeline said, “I would totally go back if I had a vehicle. My goal is to try all of them.” 

    Next on her list is the sweet chili dog and the Churro Kong Dog. Adeline hopes to find her favorite and believes that the sweet chili dog might be the future winner. She described Kong Dog as a perfect “grab and go” spot, but also liked the storefront experience. She took several photos of a fist breaking the wall with a Kong Dog and the Gorilla cutout made her giggle. The plating of the Kong Dog was definitely her favorite part after patiently waiting in line. Kong Dog has recently blown up in the TikTok world and is worth the try if you’re a corn dog fan or willing to try new flavor profiles, like my niece Adeline—who maybe likes sweet potatoes now.

    Kong Dog, 1424 W. Taylor St. Monday–Friday, 11am–9pm. (312) 265-0958.

  • Best Momo on the South Side: The Momo World

    In University Village, there’s an incredible Himalayan street food spot that reminds me of my dear friend Tenzin. A few years back, my teen cousin and I were rushing to New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 4am. Tenzin packed us some dumplings for the road as a gift. Those dumplings would end up saving us as we faced a long journey to get back home. When I first tasted The Momo World’s dumplings, it brought me back to my best friend Tenzin and her talented family’s cooking skills. At Momo World, I remembered my friend and the pieces of home that she was willing to share with me. I always think of Tenzin, her sisters, and her parents whenever I eat there. This restaurant brought together people, countries, and lifetime friendships for me. I recognize that we do not share the same culture, but I will never forget her willingness to share her connection to it. One day, I hope to bring Tenzin and share a meal with her then as she did for me in the past. 

    If you visit Momo World, be prepared for momo overload—you will truly enter a new culinary world if you’re not already familiar. The Special Momo menu alone will probably change your taste buds forever. This restaurant emphasizes its Nepalese roots and celebrates its country’s legacy with food. For example, the butter masala momo is an incredible creation, as either the chicken or vegetarian option. You will need to revisit multiple times to try their extensive menu of different types and methods of cooking momos. Just keep in mind there is a fifteen minute cooking time for most momos. I promise it’s worth the wait. The momo soups were also a game changer, like the Titanic Soup Momo. Other menu options range from Biryani, Nepali Pulau dishes, and Sekuwa menu options. 

    I also love their drink menu. I am guilty of ordering three drinks at a time because I haven’t found another spot that offers such fresh options at affordable prices. Here, I’m able to buy two drinks for the price of one compared to other fresh juice spots. My favorites are the guava juice and the matcha lemonade. However, the mango juice and llam Ko Chiya Milk (Nepali hot milk tea) usually rotate as my third drink. If you somehow have room, the desserts are worth the extra splurge and “itis” afterwards. All deserts are under $6 and offer unique items like chocolate momos and Nepalese classics. Bring a friend because you’ll definitely want to process and debrief with a buddy this new world across continents.

    The Momo World, 727 W. Maxwell St. Friday–Saturday, noon–10pm; Tuesday–Thursday, noon–9pm. (312) 733-8637.

  • Best Pizza on Taylor Street: Damenzo’s Pizza

    Damenzo’s is legendary for its presence in the neighborhood since the mid-1980s. For me, this pizza spot has earned one of the “best” titles after decades serving its community and surviving a pandemic. Their menu offers many affordable options, like a large twenty-four-inch pizza starting at $31.50. For stuffed or pan pizza, the maximum size is fourteen inches and starts at $19.50, or try their “everything” pizza for $28 for the same size but have all the flavors. These prices are rare and don’t come at the cost of flavor. Their calzones are amazing and can easily be shared between two people. The starting cost is $6.98, and one dollar for each additional topping. It’s a hard deal to beat these days. All of their Italian dinners are under $12 and include garlic bread and parmesan cheese, with the option of adding meatballs or a sausage for under $4. 

    There’s also an extensive $10 sandwich deal, all of which are served with delicious cottage fries. If you’re willing to pay for more, there is the jumbo gym shoe sandwich that is unlike anything I’ve tried. If you’re looking to feed a party, Damenzo’s catering trays can serve up to thirty-five and are under $100 each. 

    The quality of the food is a reflection of its people and the  generations of the family. The story goes that Damenzo’s reflects both of its founders’ names, Damiano Mannino and Vincenzo Leone, who are also brothers-in-law. The restaurant’s current location is also down the block from where Damiano grew up. This pizza shop is a testament to families coming together and becoming entrepreneurs in their own neighborhood. It’s amazing to see their decades of success and community roots continue, hopefully for more generations. 

    This family-owned restaurant is open until midnight. If you’re curious to check it out but not sure what to order, Damenzo’s is on the Too Good To Go application, which allows customers to buy surprise meals for under $6-8, usually. It’s part of a larger effort to reduce food waste while helping hungry customers save money. Check out Damenzo’s website for more information or stop by! It’s definitely worth the visit—just the smell alone will motivate you to buy more than what you planned.

    Damenzo’s Pizza, 2324 W. Taylor St. Friday–Saturday, 10am–1am; Sunday–Thursday, 10am–midnight. (312) 421-1142.

  • Best Italian Cakes in Little Italy: Scafuri Bakery

    Scafuri Bakery is the living legacy of Luigi Scafuri and his daughter, Annette, who built their business in the Little Italy neighborhood that is now referred to as University Village. The family migrated from Calabria, Italy before moving to Chicago. Their business opened back in 1904 and has stayed within the family for five generations. Annette continued the business after her father passed away and retired when she was ninety years old. It is incredible to know that their recipes and everything-from-scratch methods continue from the past century. This storefront is a piece of Chicago’s history and a multigenerational cultural dedication. It’s also a beautiful space to visit, especially around the winter holidays. The window decorations remind me of Christmas movies and a flash from the past. Scafuri Bakery is truly a culinary gift for Chicago.

    What makes me love this bakery is that their pastries have equally stolen my heart and broken it at the same time when I realize I ate all of them. They are most famous for their Italian cookies and cakes, but you shouldn’t overlook their other options, like their Biscotti di Noci (hazelnut) or lemon ricotta loaf bread. Their Cuccidati cookies were my first Italian fig cookie and  have forever changed my life. I also recommend the Pignoli (pine nut) and the tri-color cookies that remind me of Mexican polvorones (similarly tri-color with brown instead of green) cookies. They also serve coffee to accompany those lovely treats.  

    There’s even a gluten-free menu that includes the coconut macaroons and pignoli (pine nut) cookies. Just make sure to have friends or an appetite when buying cookies because they only sell by the pound. You can also buy their assorted cookie pound for $18. If you’re hosting a gathering, I recommend purchasing their special for around $52, which includes two pounds of Italian cookies and a loaf of your choice—a great deal. If you’re looking for over twenty pounds of cookies, you can contact them directly for special pricing. Scafuri Bakery, which was also featured in 2015 BoSS, also ships nationally if you’re looking to wow a loved one or brighten someone’s day with some Chicago love!

    Scafuri Bakery, 1337 W. Taylor St. Thursday–Friday, 8am–4pm; Saturday–Sunday, 7am–4pm. (312) 733-8881.

  • Best Affordable Gyro on Western: Westside Gyros

    This restaurant reminds me of growing up and getting a quick bite between bus rides or after a long day. Westside Gyros also resembles this memory for many who appreciate its affordability, with most meals costing under $13. Their menu, printed on the wall, has a retro feel that is usually lost or underappreciated at restaurants now. This old-school shop has a meal that can satisfy most budgets and appetites. There are combos that are simply amazing, like their triple cheeseburger or Double Whipper Style Special. They also have Mediterranean food options, like pitas and, of course, gyros. Just make sure to bring cash. Despite any inconveniences with payment, you will get the best bang out of your buck here. 

    A family of four can eat under $40 and leave satisfied. Westside Gyros is one of the few remaining businesses that offer these prices and quality of food in the area. If you stop by, you’ll find workers, families, youth, and other community members making a line to fill their bellies. The restaurant is dedicated to serving its customers—and their wallets. They also have separate menus for wings, sides under $6, and all items on their main menu all include a can of pop and fries. This spot reminds me of the strength that small shops have in feeding entire communities. As a small and family-owned business, Westside Gyros deserves all of the support from hungry customers. They have some of the best lunch specials and crispiest French fries in town.

    Westside Gyros, 754 S. Western Ave. Monday–Saturday, 9:30am–9:30pm. (312) 733-9300.

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