The Run Down

Get your walking shoes ready, because we're going on an old fashioned neighborhood walkabout. The plan for the day is a one mile jaunt through Lincoln Park that's got a bit of an international flare. It starts with Taiwanese bubble tea, then olive oil and lemon drenched Greek chicken and fries, and we end the day at a Chicago apartment building from 1920's that's been converted into an art gallery and cultural center. 

1. Boba @ Hello Jasmine

2. Relax @ Oz Park

3. Greek Chicken @ Athenian Room

4. Culture @ Wrigthwood 659

1. Hello Jasmine

For you boba tea fans out there, you’d usually have to go somewhere Uptown or Chinatown to get your fix. Well, that’s starting to change as some of those boba milk tea shops in those neighborhoods are expanding. One example of that is our first stop, Hello Jasmine. This place started as a small bar in Chinatown that shared a space with a hotpot restaurant. They’ve outgrown their first location and recently set up a shop in Lincoln Park.

We’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us, so we’re starting here to pick up some boba teas drinks to accompany us on our stroll through the neighborhood. We picked up a couple of interesting factoids along the way and some notes to get you going.

– Many boba tea shops make their drinks using some mass-manufactured powder mix. That’s a thing, and you’re getting bamboozled when that happens.

– Hello Jasmine brews their own teas and sources them from Taiwan.

– Depending on the time of day, this place can get busy. You can order ahead if you don’t want to hang around too long.

Even if you don’t order ahead and have to wait around a bit, it’s a nice spot to take in the neighborhood. With the Brown line tracks overhead and the scores of brownstones, old apartments, and massive homes that line the block, it doesn’t get more “Lincoln Park” than this.

Within the boba tea phenomenon, sub-trends within this world ebb and flow. The latest trend is this variant — the brown sugar boba milk tea. It blends tea, fresh cold milk, brown sugar caramel, and tapioca pearls. The brown sugar gives it a deep and rich flavor profile — the same taste you get when you bite down on a really good piece of toffee candy.

2. Oz Park

Less than a five-minute walk from Hello Jasmine is Oz Park. We’re stopping off here to take in the over 14 acres of open green space and community gardens in the middle of this bustling neighborhood. Take your time winding through the different trails in the park, but if you’re looking for an area that offers more tranquility, head to the Northeast end of the park. There’s a small section called Emerald City Gardens. This fenced-off area has a small community-supported garden with little hidden paths between different rows of flowers and garden beds.

You’ll find people laying out on patches of grass between flowers, groups having picnics, and folks reading books under the massive trees hanging out on the garden’s perimeter. Find a spot for yourself, finish the rest of your drink, relax in the sun, and prepare for our next spot.

3. Athenian Room

Our next stop is right next to Oz Park. We’re headed to the Athenian Room — a Greek restaurant that’s been a fixture in the neighborhood for nearly 50 years.

This place opened in 1972 and has this old-school American diner feel but with Greek design influences scattered about. It’s a perfect mash-up of these two different design aesthetics, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now to get to the real reason why we’re here. It’s their kalamata chicken. It’s a plate of roasted chicken that sits on top of a bed of fries, all swimming in a pool of this lemon, olive oil, and oregano sauce.

The meal is at its best when it comes hot off the stove and onto your table. The fries, still hot and crispy, are soaking up the sauce and all the drippings from the roast chicken that’s still sizzling on the plate.

But wait. Perhaps even better is there Alexandros-style skirt steak. It’s got the same setup as the kalamata chicken, but with a tender piece of beef instead. This is a steak that punches above its weight. In terms of value for money, I would venture to say that it might even make your personal list of best steaks to have in Chicago. Only way to know is to come try it for yourself

4. Wrightwood 659

With our stomachs full, we will take in some culture for our last stop. We’re walking 15 minutes north to a Chicago apartment building from the 1920s that’s been converted into an art gallery and cultural center.

Without the signage out in front, you’d most likely walk by without even noticing this place. The entire block is entirely residential, and this gallery blends right in. The inside is a whole different story. Before we go further, here are some logistics notes.

– Open Thursday – Saturday

– You need to reserve a time slot in advance on their website

– Tickets are $15 when you book any day before when you’re going, but if you can find a time slot on the actual day you’re going, it’s usually free (but you still need to book the reservation)

– When you walk to the front gate, there’s a call box you can use to contact the front desk to let you in

This place has four floors of exhibit space, with a new exhibition every few months. During our visit the entire space was showcased the works of Balkrishna Doshi, a pioneer of taking modern architecture concepts and adapting them to with local cultural traditions in India. This is from the top floor and looking down towards the lobby. The brick facade of the building is still intact, but the interior takes on a modern look with concrete and glass shaping the main corridor. You’ll find educators on each floor who are available to answer questions and tell you more about any of the pieces on exhibition. On the very top floor there is an open area with floor to ceiling windows that look out into the neighborhood. It’s a quiet space where you can reflect on the works of art you just browsed.