What is Chicago's cultural makeup?

Answers from Our Experts (3)

Chicago's many ethnic enclaves retain their distinct character in a way that doesn't happen in other metropolises. Pilsen and Little Village, for example, are home to a vibrant Mexican-American community. Located on the Southwest Side, these conjoined neighborhoods are peppered with taquerías and bakeries - try a slice of classic Mexican tres leches cake at Bombon Bakery. The National Museum of Mexican Art, as well as the numerous galleries that dot the area - especially around the Chicago Arts District (18th and Halsted streets in East Pilsen) - make the area an artists' hub.

A few blocks east of Pilsen is Chicago's Chinatown (Wentworth Avenue and Cermak Road). All along Wentworth and Archer avenues, you can find shops literally brimming with tchotchkes and wares, such as paper umbrellas, lanterns, jade statuettes and woks. Dining options are just as diverse - head for Lao Szechuan for tongue-singeing Szechuan fare, or Phoenix Restaurant for Sunday dim sum.

For a taste of Swedish heritage, head to the North Side's Andersonville. Locals wait in long lines at the Swedish Bakery to snatch up goodies like streusel and flourless chocolate cake. Crowds also pack Ann Sather restaurant for a traditional breakfast of Swedish pancakes with tart lingonberries.

Chicago is a world-class city in every respect, especially in its cultural scene. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a musical force in Chicago and the world. It hosts over a 150 events throughout the year and is comprised of 109 incredibly talented musicians. Counted among its ensemble are internationally renowned conductors and two award-winning composers.

Should you prefer a visual element alongside classical music, the Lyric Opera of Chicago is the perfect symmetry of music, song and theater. Boasting an eight-opera season, it offers 68 performances annually. The Opera House is a beautiful spectacle in its own right.

If classical music isn’t your cup of tea, Broadway in Chicago is home to famous shows year round. The city’s Theater District in the Loop boasts five beautiful, historic theaters that each play host to some of the country’s most popular shows. Many are home to long-standing, non-touring productions, as well.

Guests looking to see beautiful ballet will be well satisfied in Chicago, too. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago maintains 42 dancers in its company and regularly performs throughout the year in the Loop.

Lauren Viera

Chicago has a super-rich immigrant history that’s reflected in a diverse cross-section of neighborhoods, traditions, cuisines and cultural institutions. What’s incredible is how wide spread it is. Like many major American cities, there’s a large population of Irish-Catholics and Italian-Americans—in Chicago’s case, anchored to the city’s South Side and West Sides, respectively. But then up in the tip-top of the city’s North Side is a whole neighborhood built around Swedish culture, from traditional public art near the Swedish American Museum to cinnamon-roll perfectionists Ann Sather, serving the most incredible Swedish breakfast this side of the fjords.

Surprisingly, one of Chicago’s biggest subcultures is festively influenced by Mexico. The heart of the city’s Mexican-American population lies in the Pilsen neighborhood just southwest of downtown, anchored at 18th Street and Ashland Avenue, and also the Little Village neighborhood just southwest. Storefronts range from traditional mercados with butchers carving carnitas to sit-down restaurants serving specialties from each of Mexico’s many states. Chilaquiles are Chicago’s go-to Mexican breakfast specialty, and my favorite is served at La Casa del Pueblo in Pilsen. Next door is the 50-year-old grocery store of the same name, where celebrity chef Rick Bayless is known to shop for provisions.

The city is also known for its population of Eastern Europeans. On the Northwest side in neighborhoods like Belmont Gardens and Old Irving Park, signage is written just as often in Czech or Polish as it is in English. Traditional restaurants like the Red Apple have been serving pierogis and borsht for decades, and related cultural festivals come out of the woodwork during summertime.

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