Best of the South Side 2014 | Englewood

Best Good Word: Shanah B


Rashanah Baldwin is perhaps the busiest person in Englewood. She is the co-founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), a group of residents who work to further civic engagement, development, and education in the neighborhood. She also runs Shop Talk, a monthly speaker and town-hall series based out of an Englewood barbershop, and What’s Good in Englewood, a brief weekly radio show that highlights positive happenings in the community. All this work has recently culminated in a flurry of citywide and national media attention for both Baldwin, who goes by Shanah B, and her neighborhood—a place with more positive stories to tell than what, in most places, gets heard. I recently sat down to talk with Baldwin at Englewood’s Kusanya Café about her work. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Pilsen



Cafe Jumping Bean, on the 18th Street main drag in Pilsen, is a microcosm of the eclectic neighborhood. On any day of the week, you can find large Mexican families, UIC students, and disheveled artists caffeinating and chatting over hearty paninis and freshly baked pastries. Although the Jumping Bean has served as a nucleus of the neighborhood for two decades—“in the nineties, it was the only place of its kind,” one artist said—recent history has seen the opening of many new coffee shops and cafés, not to mention monthly art events like 2nd Fridays Gallery Nights, hip eateries like Dusek’s and Nightwood, a burgeoning Sunday farmer’s market, and the newly renovated Thalia Hall. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Bridgeport



Bridgeport on a Sunday morning: a seating queue winds snugly around the corner of the organic eatery Nana, its outdoor café space buzzing both with young brunchers and the bees that dive-bomb them from the planters. There’s a sidewalk sale assembled on the stoops of Jackalope Coffee and Tea House, attracting a crush of folks who are perhaps too cool for you. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Chinatown



Chicago’s Chinatown is changing. Geographically, the area can be divided into two parts: the long, familiar stretch along South Wentworth Avenue, and the somewhat brighter section surrounding the Chinatown Square mall, directly to the north. A recent increase in investment is apparent—the southern half in particular has hitherto unimaginably glitzy stores opening up alongside, or in place of, the older restaurants and kitsch shops. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Chinatown | Uncategorized

Best Healing: Nam Bac Hang


I walked past a kind of fool’s gold in South China Plaza; plastic bobble-headed cats nodded ni hao in windows full of glittering souvenir kitsch, inviting my gaze to skim the surface. Crossing Cermak Road and feeling unnerved by the sense of culture up for sale, I spotted a blue-eyed Siamese cat peeking its head out of the shop door at 243 West Cermak. Above the cat was a sign: “Nam Bac Hang.” Entering the tiny shop, I saw rows of boxes with Chinese characters written on them, and glass jars filled with mushrooms and dried herbs. Locals were walking up to the counter asking for tea and formulas for their colds and allergies. Curious, I asked a young man standing nearby about the nature of the shop; he told me it was owned by his father, Long Huynh, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine whose family traces their healing lineage back to the days of the emperor in ancient China. Intrigued, I sat down with Long Huynh to ask him about his family’s history, qi, and his medicine. Continue reading

Auburn Gresham | Best of the South Side 2014 | Greater Grand Crossing

Auburn Gresham & Greater Grand Crossing


You can feel the pulse of the community best on a summer night along 79th Street. The sky is pink and perfect, wispy with clouds, while cicadas mingle with the rumble of traffic. People are driving home from work down Racine and Halsted. On Loomis and Parnell children are playing before dinner. From the grey monolith of St. Sabina Church the strains of an organ pour out in waves. Singing rattles the slightly open windows. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Far Southeast Side

Far Southeast Side

The strip of land that tapers to a point at 93rd Street, bounded by the slow-moving Calumet River to the west and north, and by the Indiana border to the east, is known as the East Side, though it was once called The Island. It is the East Side because it is on the east bank of the Calumet. Regionally, with the neighborhood of Hegewisch two miles farther south, it is also the East Side inasmuch as it is not quite part of the South Side: the only train stop east of the river, the Hegewisch South Shore station, is operated not by Metra or the CTA but by northern Indiana’s commuter rail agency, the NICTD. The wetlands and connected waterways that made the area The Island have largely receded or been destroyed, and they would have vanished entirely had Mayor Daley’s proposal to build an airport in Hegewisch gone through in the nineties. But Hegewisch and the East Side—as well as South Deering, Altgeld Gardens, and Pullman, on the opposite side of the river—are (with few exceptions) as isolated as that name, The Island, suggests. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Little Village

Best Bilingual Refuge: Librería Girón

On 26th Street—where the eye is attacked with displays of quinceañera dresses so incredibly pink that they melt your eyeballs—it is easy to miss the understated black awning announcing the presence of Librería Girón.  Were it not for an intriguing (and misleading) subtitle that caught my eye—“Discoteca International”—I would have passed right by the Librería’s unassuming storefront. Continue reading

Best of the South Side 2014 | Little Italy | University Village

University Village & Little Italy


Both “University Village” and “Little Italy” could be considered misnomers—titles that describe the neighborhood by certain identities as others have been successively carved away. In fact, the story of this neighborhood contains many of the processes of change that mark the history of Chicago at large: the rise and fall of public housing, shifts in demographics, and urban renewal. Continue reading