One of Chicago’s hallmarks is its 77 amazingly diverse neighborhoods, each with its own cultural history, ambiance, and personality. Chicagoans take pride in their neighborhoods, carefully choosing which to reside in and often considering their ‘hood a reflection of themselves.
Our first Neighborhood Spotlight Series post featured the lower west-side neighborhood of Pilsen. This time, we’re trekking up north to one of the most charming and friendly neighborhoods in Chicago: Andersonville.
Andersonville sits about 8 miles north of the Loop, but it’s an easy trip on the Red Line train—just a 10-minute walk west of the Berwyn stop until you hit Clark Street. You’ll know you’ve arrived once you start seeing the blue and yellow colors of Sweden. A large cherry orchard in the 1850s, the area was settled by Swedish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the neighborhood is well-known for its diversity and acceptance, yet retains much of its Swedish heritage and charm, culminating in its annual Midsommarfest festival that celebrates the summer solstice.
Given Andersonville’s Swedish roots, you should naturally start your day with breakfast at one of the oldest Swedish establishments in town: Svea Restaurant. It’s welcoming atmosphere and affordable Viking-sized portions will leave you satisfied and ready for the rest of the day! I recommend the Viking Breakfast or The Three Crowns Special. If you’re a little adventurous, try the pickled herring for a Swedish classic. Cap off breakfast with something sweet by taking a short walk north to Lost Larson, a beautiful neighborhood bakery and café that is inspired by the owners’ Scandinavian heritage. The almond lingonberry cake is excellent!
After that hearty breakfast, visit the Swedish American Museum to learn the history of Swedish immigrants to the US and Chicago. Fun fact—in the early 1900s, there were more Swedes in Chicago than any other city in the world besides Stockholm! The museum also includes galleries that highlight Swedish and Swedish American art work, an interactive children’s museum where children can reenact the Swedish journey to America, and a genealogy center.
Spend the rest of the afternoon walking up and down Clark Street to really experience the community and ambiance of Andersonville today. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many chains as the neighborhood is still comprised almost entirely of unique, independent, and locally-owned businesses. Andersonville is a vintage-lover’s dream with shop after shop filled with antiques and old-fashioned items. Be sure to stop by Women & Children First, a bookstore focused on feminist authors and topics (no relation to Portlandia’s Women & Women First). Also don’t miss Transistor for records and Alley Cat Comics for comics and board games. While you’re going in and out of these shops, keep your eyes peeled for art and murals that adorn Andersonville’s public spaces and walls. Can you find all three “You Are Beautiful” signs?
Between all this exploring, you may need a snack. Andersonville has you covered! If you’ve got a sugar craving, First Slice Pie Caféand George’s Ice Cream & Sweets should satisfy you. Looking for something more substantial? Check out Taste of Lebanon or Middle East Bakery and Grocery. The Lamb Kabob wrap, Lentil Soup, and Baba Ghanoush at Taste of Lebanon are amazing. Pick up all your Middle Eastern grocery needs (Lebanese pitas and spices galore!) at Middle East Bakery and Grocery and try their Chicken Shawarma while you’re at it—you can see the juicy meat spinning on the trombo while you wait.
After all this exploring, take a break and enjoy one of Andersonville’s many excellent coffee shops. A long-time neighborhood favorite is The Coffee Studio where the owners have been advocates of the community for years. Another great shop is Kopi Café where there’s a section with floor cushions and coffee tables so you can sip your coffee or tea while comfortably reading or working.
Come dinner time, you really can’t go wrong—there’s something for every budget and palette! If it’s your first time, I recommend Hopleaf, one of the older establishments that helped spur Andersonville’s growth over the last 30 years. With elevated bar food, 68 draft lines, and over 400 kinds of bottled beer, Hopleaf is a must-visit and a neighborhood staple! More recently, Andersonville has become home to fantastic establishments such as Jin Ju, Bar Roma, and Big Jones. But my favorite newer entrant to the neighborhood’s dining scene is Passerotto—a charming Korean restaurant with an Italian name and a hint of Italian influence. Seriously, everything is to die for, but I definitely wouldn’t miss out on the Lamb Ragu or the Kalbi.
If you’re not completely worn out yet, it’s now time to explore Andersonville’s nightlife. Grab a drink at Simon’s Tavern, the sister establishment to Svea’s and an old school Swedish tavern. Put a dollar into the jukebox and, if it’s the winter, grab a glass (or two or three) of gløgg, the Scandinavian version of mulled wine. I promise your heart will fill with warmth and happiness. Don’t stay too long, though. Andersonville is home to two of the most unique late evening activities in the city: The Neo-Futurists and the Chicago Magic Lounge. The former is my personal favorite comedy show in the city. The Neo-Futurists signature show, The Infinite Wrench, is always high energy, fast-paced, and surprising. The Chicago Magic Lounge pays homage to the heyday of Chicago’s magic bar scene. You can buy tickets to a show, or just grab a drink and a bite at the bar and be amazed by the magicians strolling around.
With so many unique activities and things to do in Andersonville, one visit certainly isn’t enough! But I hope this guide serves as a good starting point to explore a neighborhood rich in history and charm. Happy exploring!