By Kevin Chan
Wicker Park is a bustling Chicago neighborhood that boasts an incredible hub of art and food that stays true to its multicultural roots and quirky community. If you look up Wicker Park in Urban Dictionary, it says: “Home to a large community of artists and hipsters. You can't go 10 feet without seeing someone with 3 or 4 different shades of hair color”. There is a distinctly urban yet low-key feel about the streets of Wicker Park. The clanking of the L stop that runs on the tracks above you and the hissing of the buses that try to navigate through a confusing five-way stop add to the ambiance set up by a myriad of eclectic shops. From tarot card readers to used book stores, most of what there is to see in Wicker Park is concentrated along the intersection of Milwaukee and Damen Avenues, so be sure to hit up this hipster area. (Spoiler Alert: the park after which Wicker Park is named is not that great.)
This area boasts an array of great shops, restaurants and activities for all. Here are a few standouts:
Myopic Books: On the front door of Myopic Books, there is a sign taped to the glass that says no cell phones, no social media, and no photography inside the store. No need to check in on Facebook at this shop. The store enables you to immerse yourself in all the books that have made their way here. This quaint bookstore has been mentioned by several Chicago publications as the best used book store in town. If you go there, you can see why. The smell of old paper and unfinished wood permeates the room, while the winding paths between bookshelves as high as the ceiling make it easy to get lost in the store, letting you to spend time looking at the books on the shelves. My favorite sections to go in this store are in the basement at the comic section to read Calvin & Hobbes and on the second floor to read all the cooking and wine tasting books. Get lost in literature here and make sure to put away your phone while you’re at it.
Diptyque: If you think that a cilantro scented candle can freshen up your room better than any variety of febreeze can, then Diptyque is the place for you. The French company makes a assortment of candles and perfume and has one location in Chicagoland: Wicker Park. The shelves of candles present a crazy set of scents that are all enjoyable to smell, so be prepared to spend a lot of time in this store going down the line and sampling every candle. Cilantro, Rose, and Amber were some of my personal favorites. Also, all the candles are labeled in French so to actually understand what you are smelling, it helps to bring someone who speaks French. Or phone a friend.
Umami Burger: One of two locations in Chicago, Umami Burger in Wicker Park is a gourmet burger restaurant that centers its food around umami, a word coined by the Japanese to mean savory. Umami Burger has been serving delicious burgers across its 25 locations nationwide since it was founded in 2009. Here you’ll find all sorts of “umami” foods on your burgers like parmesan cheese, truffle butter, and miso. When I first heard about it, putting fancy things on burgers sounded like a bunch of nonsense. Lettuce and tomato forever, right? But, only one out of 12 burgers on the menu has lettuce, and only 3 out of 12 have tomatoes--nonetheless they must be doing something right with umami. On my first trip here, I had the K-BBQ burger, which is exactly what it sounds like, and it was delicious. Interestingly, the Umami Burger in Wicker Park also sports the Impossible Burger, which is a patty that is 100% plant-based and made to taste, feel, and look like meat. Crazy right?! If you’re feeling adventurous, then that is the way to go. In addition, do yourself a favor and order the Maple Bacon Fries. Seriously.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams: Inside Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, on the massive blackboard behind the marble counter, there is a sign that advertises their latest flavor: Ricotta Toast with Red Berry Geranium Jam. I, too, was confused when I first read the label. How could Jeni think to serve something so bizarre? However, after tasting a sample, I had to get a whole scoop because it was AMAZING. That’s precisely the Jeni’s experience that I want most people to have: Seeing a weird flavor that you never thought would even work, tasting it and realizing it is amazing. Jeni’s showcases a variety of permanent flavors as well as a rotating set of new flavors. Before I got the Ricotta flavor, I had a sweet potato with marshmallow flavor which was also really good. Please hit up this store and try some of the funky flavors you can find inside. They will definitely surprise you.
En Hakkore: I feel like Korean and Mexican fusion restaurants are never a miss, and En Hakkore Bibimbap and Taco certainly doesn’t disappoint. The shop has a cafe vibe with tea sets adorning shelves as well as books mounted on the walls. I highly recommend the tacos, which can be described as a Korean BBQ taco filling with a shell that is like a better Flat Top bread. For a small price you can get two massive tacos that will certainly make your taste buds thank you. Another one of my favorite dishes is the Sashimi Bap, which is every food instagrammer’s dream (picture below).
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate: I had the pleasure of going to the Mindy’s Hot Chocolate located at the Revival Food Hall in downtown Chicago. After learning about that the original location is in Wicker Park, I decided to include it here. If the original location serves even more pastries and drinks than the downtown location, then it is well worth your time to stop by! Also, check out this article if you like weed candy made by the very same Mindy!