The Run Down

Are the kids climbing all over the walls at your house? Okay, let's give your home a break. For this guide, you'll take the kids to Uptown and visit a former bank whose second floor is now a bouldering gym. Afterward, you'll take advantage of one of the most significant benefits of raising kids in Chicago: having easy access to food cultures from all over the world. You'll have a post-gym meal at a Vietnamese restaurant where you'll introduce your kids to something other than pho. Here are the details.

1. Climb @ First Ascent

2. Mi Quang @ DaNang Kitchen

1. First Ascent

We’re starting at First Ascent, a chain of climbing gyms begun by a group of local Chicago climbers.

The gym is in a century-old building, and from the outside, it doesn’t look like a place you’d expect a climbing gym to be. If you think this looks more like a turn-of-the-century bank than a climbing gym, you’d be right because it was constructed at the turn of the century and initially housed the Sheridan Trust Bank.

On the second floor of this building, behind all the arched windows, is where you’ll find 9,000 square feet of climbing terrain extending up to 15 feet high.

The entrance is right beneath this awning on the first floor. Here are a few things to make a note of before visiting.

– Day passes for $23 are available for non-members. They also have guided sessions tailored explicitly for families ($49 for the first person and $29 for each additional person). You can book day passes and guided sessions here.

– This is a bouldering-only gym. That means you climb without ropes or harnesses on walls up to 15 feet high.

– They have climbing shoes that you can borrow for free.

–  There are free lockers and cubbies where you can store your stuff.

Once you check in, you can head to the second floor to start climbing. These arched windows are a relic of the original building and line the climbing space’s entire length. You can post up right at the windows between climbs. 

2. DaNang Kitchen

After bouldering, you’ll head just a few blocks away for a post-climb meal at DaNang Kitchen. This is one of the many Vietnamese restaurants in the area, and we’re here to expose the family to Vietnamese food other than pho. We’ll take the time to broaden our knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine.   

DaNang Kitchen is named after the city Da Nang in Central Vietnam. This region of Vietnam has its own culinary identity, and this restaurant celebrates that. 

The restaurant is in a narrow space flanked by other Vietnamese restaurants nearby. A cozy nook looking out towards the street is a prime spot in this family-run operation.  You’ll find the husband and wife cooking in the back while their teenage son manages the front.

Now let’s move on to the food. Pictured above is perhaps one of the most popular dishes in Central Vietnam, and you won’t find it in many other Vietnamese restaurants. It’s called Mi Quang or DaNang Signature Noodle on their menu. To borrow some words from famed restauranteur and food personality Guy Fieri, “Welcome to flavor town.”

This dish consists of flat rice noodles mixed with turmeric, which gives the noodles their distinct yellow color. An assortment of fragrant vegetables and herbs (cilantro, green onions, sorrel) sit on top of the noodles and helps balance the dish against a savory and slightly sweet pork broth at the bottom of the bowl.

Piled on top are slices of pork belly, shrimp, quail eggs, a rice cracker, and toasted almonds that round out this dish.

Another food recommendation is their banh khot or crispy mini cakes. What you see in the picture above are small rice flour pancakes that are thin and super crispy. It’s the delivery vehicle for a grilled piece of shrimp tucked inside along with other herbs. It comes with a plate of lettuce, and to eat this, you wrap each of these cakes in the lettuce and dip it into a sweet dipping sauce.

Another staple of Central Vietnamese cuisine you’ll be hard-pressed to find in other Vietnamese restaurants.

As an end to this guide, we’ve got a special treat for the parents: Vietnamese egg coffee. This drink comes straight from the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam, where it’s been a popular drink since the 1950s. It’s a shot of espresso with a whipped egg sitting on top. To drink this, whisk everything together and then enjoy this velvety smooth and sweet drink.