Chicago

The Absolute Best Ways to Celebrate New Year's Eve in Chicago

Toast to the end of 2020.

Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum
Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum
Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

One good thing about 2020? You finally have a good excuse not to go out on New Year’s Eve. Homebodies will find plenty to like with Chicago’s tamped-down edition of New Year’s Eve, with everything from virtual galas to live-streamed comedy. If you’re still itching to leave the not-so-friendly confines of your seemingly shrinking domicile, you can still celebrate safely with drive-in concerts and movies, romantic outdoor dinners, immersive light displays, and boozy cocktails experiences. Here’s everything fun you can do in Chicago this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to a better tomorrow.

Courtesy of Geja's Cafe
Courtesy of Geja’s Cafe
Courtesy of Geja’s Cafe

Book a romantic table by the fire with Geja’s NYE Package

One of Chicago’s most romantic restaurants is offering limited outdoor seating with a covered fireplace as part of its New Year’s Eve Package featuring a three-course dinner and bottle of champagne. You can also ring in NYE from the comfort of your home by ordering their NYE @Home Fondue Experience.
 

Party in your car at House Party at the Drive-In New Year’s Eve Bash

What better way to close out this weird year than a New Year’s Eve party from the comfort of your car? Stop by SeatGeek Stadium’s House Party at the Drive-In New Year’s Eve Bash for a full lineup of live house music performances with food/drink and a fireworks show to bid farewell to this shitshow of a year. Masks and social distancing required, obviously.
 

Rock a virtual NYE ball at New Year’s Eve at the Drake

One of Chicago’s most iconic NYE galas goes virtual for 2020 with a live video performance from members of DJ Firm to pair with takeout holiday dinners from local restos like Gibson’s and Tavern on Rush over Zoom. This year’s event from Chicago Scene will benefit several local charities, with full details here.
 

Stream some live virtual comedy with New Year Zeve from Zanie’s

This live NYE comedy event will be streamed from Zanie’s to your couch with performances from three of Chicago’s best standup comics, hosted by Calvin Evans. So yeah, maybe not everything in 2020 was a complete disaster. Book tickets here.

Courtesy of Frosty's A Christmas Bar
Courtesy of Frosty’s A Christmas Bar
Courtesy of Frosty’s A Christmas Bar

Book a holiday-themed hotel room for a festive NYE staycation

The ever-popular Frosty’s pop-up Christmas bar morphs into a socially distanced hotel experience at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel for 2020, with fully decked-out rooms alongside in-room themed holiday cocktails, games, Christmas movies, holiday dinner take-out, and more. If that’s not enough, you can also book the appropriately jolly “Santa Suite” at Swissotel for some naughty (or nice) NYE fun.
 

Spend NYE watching “Batman Returns” at a drive-in movie theater

Ordinarily, seeing “Batman Returns” at a drive-in movie theater isn’t exactly our idea of a crazy fun NYE. But in 2020, we’ll most certainly take it. Park your ride at Chitown Movies for a family-friendly special afternoon screening with mulled wine and other food/beverage available for purchase.

Courtesy of Lotties Pub
Courtesy of Lotties Pub
Courtesy of Lotties Pub

Sip “campers cocktails” paired with S’mores at Camp Lottie’s

Bucktown neighborhood hang Lottie’s has decked out its side patio in full camp regalia for its new “Camp Lottie’s” experience, where guests can reserve private heated tents and hang out amidst fire pits, string lights, and a canteen menu with classic pub fare, S’mores, hot cocktails, and coolers of beer. There are certainly worse ways to ring in 2021.
 

Stream a live concert

New Year’s Eve is typically a big day for concerts in Chicago, but obviously that ain’t happening this year. Instead, stream a virtual concert from The Avett Brothers or get ready to dance at #DanceAway2020. And while there won’t be any raging festivals to hit for NYE, Tomorrowland is curating a fairly impressive NYE lineup featuring EDM heavy hitters Major Lazer, David Guetta, Diplo, and more. Looking for something more local? Explore virtual options from local venues like The Hideout, Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall/Schubas, Experimental Sound Studio, and more.
 

Ring in the new year with a holiday light display

From Lincoln Park’s iconic ZooLights and the Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic to the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination and Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape, there’s no shortage of brilliant holiday light displays across the city and suburbs extending into the new year. You can also check out Let It Shine in Northbrook for some bonus NYE fun.
 

Say good riddance to 2020 at the New Year’s Eve Virtual 5K

Chicago Sport & Social’s annual New Year’s Eve 5K takes to the interwebs for 2020 with a weeklong virtual 5K to benefit Direct Relief from December 26 through January 3. Check out details here.
 

Order a cocktail kit and get boozy at home

It’s no secret that it’s been a rough year for Chicago bars. Help them out-while spicing up your NYE-with a cocktail kit order from upscale offerings by folks like The Aviary and Violet Hour to more down-to-Earth booze creations such as Big Star margaritas and Twisted Spoke Bloody Marys. You can also go tiki with tropical creations from 3 Dots and a Dash, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea.
 

Grab some weed for a 420-friendly NYE

Is there some sort of law stating that you can’t just chill at home with some fine legal green from Chicago’s top weed dispensaries and watch drunk Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon do their thing on the TV? No, there most certainly is not.Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile

Chicago

A Food Expert's Guide to Chicago's Chinatown

Just in time for Lunar New Year.

Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram
Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram
Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram

Chicago’s Chinatown, a triangular slice of the Near South Side loosely bordered by Cermak Road, Wentworth Avenue, and a northbound-snaking branch of the Chicago river, has been fueling Grace Wong’s culinary cravings long before she cut her teeth dishing on the city’s vibrant restaurant scene for the Chicago Tribune

“Both my parents are from Shanghai and they immigrated to Naperville, which is about 40 minutes outside of the city,” says the esteemed former dining reporter, recalling her suburban upbringing. “When I was growing up, we’d make this semi-monthly pilgrimage into Chicago, especially Chinatown and the Argyle area, to get supplies because there was no real Asian population where we lived. There were maybe two small Asian grocery stores at the time; when we got an H Mart, it was literally the biggest news of my life. My mom was so hype about it.”

“It was always just a huge deal, piling into the van,” she continues. “We would go for dim sum in the morning and then the entire afternoon we’d be following my mom around to all these different specialty grocery stores so she could get the ingredients she needed to make dishes from her homeland. I remember being a kid and carrying giant plastic buckets around because we would pick up live crabs and live fish, stuff like that.”

Wong now lives on the North Side and although both the pandemic and her recent departure from the Tribune and their centrally located office has made travelling down to Chinatown a bit less convenient, she still manages to pay her favorite establishments a visit every now and then.

“I haven’t gone much since the virus hit but I have made the trip a few times, mostly when I’m just like, ‘I need my Boba fix!'” she says with a laugh. “And then once I get down there I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I need barbecue pork from BBQ King House. And I need my roast duck. And I might as well go to Park To Shop because I’m out of like, I don’t know, oyster sauce or whatever.’ It always ends up being an extended time.”

Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram
Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram
Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram

Getting the lay of the land

It might look like one cohesive cityscape at first glance, but according to Wong, Chicago’s Chinatown is actually composed of two distinct, nuanced districts.

“So, there’s new Chinatown and there’s old Chinatown,” Wong explains. “The big plaza with all the Zodiac animals next to it-that’s considered, at least to my parents, new Chinatown. And then old Chinatown is down Wentworth Avenue, south of Cermak. If you look at a map, there’s a little triangle where Archer, Clark, and Cermak meet. Everything south of Archer is more old Chinatown and everything north of Archer is more new Chinatown.”

“Growing up, we spent a lot of time at old Chinatown, mostly because there are a bunch of bakeries there and we would bring home pastries to eat for weeks and weeks,” she says. “As I got older, we started going to new Chinatown more. You’ll see a younger demographic in new Chinatown, trendy places like Bonchon and Mango Mango-that’s more of the vibe. And it’s more touristy in the sense that the people who go into new Chinatown to walk around and spend their day there, they might not necessarily live there. Whereas with old Chinatown, you’re bumping past the old ladies that have lived in that neighborhood forever.”

What makes the neighborhood stand out?

After high school, Wong moved to California to pursue a degree in journalism at USC. And while she enjoyed the years she spent on the (much, much) sunnier West Coast, her experience in Los Angeles only further cemented her devotion to Chicago’s Chinatown.

“I think a lot of Chinatown’s across the country are kind of going away,” she says. I was in LA for like six and a half, seven years, and the actual designated “Chinatown” there is maybe one city block. Here, you can bump into people who straight up just arrived from China or Taiwan one minute then turn around and talk to someone who has lived in the area for generations the next, that’s all they know. I think that’s really cool.”

“Another important thing to note is that Chinatown is not only for the people who live there but also for all the Asian-Americans who in the surrounding suburbs, of which there are so many,” Wong adds. “To be able to go to a place where my parents can just chit chat with whoever without any worries about language, or where I can tell someone my very specific boba order and they’ll get it exactly right without asking me all these questions-I don’t know, it’s just a really special place for everybody.”
 

Grace’s list of can’t-miss Chinatown spots:

Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings
Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings
Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings

Qing Xiang Yuan

“One of my favorite places to get dumplings is Qing Xiang Yuan. They also have a location in the Loop. They do a lot of different styles, all handmade, which is really awesome. They’re really playful with the fillings and you can customize if you want them boiled or fried. And they have these really amazing takeout boxes that they designed for themselves-yes, I’m here for that packaging. They’re also pretty new and modern. I don’t know if my parents would love it, per se, because they’d be like, ‘This is a fancy restaurant.’ But it’s just dumplings! Go there and you’ll have a really great time.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Elitea

“Just south of QXY is the entrance to the Richland Center, which is basically a glorified food court. It’s one of the few places where you can get really regional cuisine and it’s also home to Elitea, one my favorite places to get boba. They have this fire brown sugar boba that is just, I mean, incredible.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

 

Hing Kee

“For soup dumplings, I like to go to Hing Kee. Back in the day there were always, like, aunties making dumplings in the window-I loved that. Every now and then I’d go for some other kind of snack, but their soup dumplings are the best.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Hello Jasmine
Courtesy of Hello Jasmine
Courtesy of Hello Jasmine

Hello Jasmine 

“Hello Jasmine on Clark Street is really good for Taiwanese snacks and boba. I usually get their roasted oolong, popcorn chicken, and maybe some sausage skewers. They also have this fried chicken sandwich that’s unreal. It was definitely a spur of the moment decision to get it, but it was so good I posted about it on Instagram.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

 

Laojiumen

“For hotpot, there’s this new place called Laojiumen. They basically do ‘fancy hotpot’ and I honestly can’t wait to go there when I feel like it’s safe to do so.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Bingo Tea

“Bingo Tea has the best cheese tea. They were one of the first and the biggest to do it. You know how cheesecake is cheese but not really? Like how it’s sweet but has a touch of like salt to it? Imagine that but whipped. There’s a fruit or loose-leaf tea on the bottom and on top there’s this foam-like latte foam but thicker. The name might be a little bit of a marketing issue, but don’t knock it until you try it!”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Lao Sze Chuan

“Lao Sze Chuan is a classic for Sichuan food across the board. It might be an unpopular opinion, but I love their dry chili chicken. People say it’s for tourists, but it’s actually so good!”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine
Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine
Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine

MingHin

“Right next to Lao Sze Chuan is MingHin. I’m telling you, no dim sum trip is complete without a stop there.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles
Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles
Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles

Slurp Slurp Noodles

“Slurp Slurp Noodles is in the old Chinatown area and their hand-shaved noodles are some of my all-time favorites. They’re super bouncy and springy and served in this delicious sauce. And they’re not soupy noodles-more like the dry, tossed-in-a-wok kind. They also make their own mustard greens, which are fire. It’s a solid spot.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

BBQ King

“BBQ King is the absolute go-to for all your barbecue needs. And they’re for sure doing takeout right now, I know that from experience.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

MCCB

“MCCB, they do ridiculous, mouth-numbingly spicy food and it’s fantastic. Their grilled whole fish, it’s just swimming in chilies, and you’re like, ‘I’m going to die and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.’ I love it there.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Chef Xiong
Courtesy of Chef Xiong
Courtesy of Chef Xiong

Chef Xiong

“Another good place for spicy Sichuan-style food is Chef Xiong. They have a really cute logo with a Panda on it. I don’t know if I have a favorite dish, but I would say just go, sit down, and whatever they tell you to eat, do that. You won’t regret it.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Dolo Restaurant and Bar

“If you want to feel like you’re at a club but also eating Chinese food, Dolo is the spot for you. They also do cocktails and their food is definitely good, but it’s just like, ‘I’m here with my parents in this dark room with this loud music… I don’t know what to say.'” 
How to order: Click here to order online.

Feida Bakery

“Barbecue pork buns? Obviously great. Ham and egg buns? Obviously great. Cream horns? Obviously great. Am I missing anything?”
How to order: Call 312-808-1113 to order.

Park To Shop

“You have to check out a grocery store because grocery stores are the best. We love going to Park To Shop-there are two big locations in Chinatown. One is on Archer and one is farther south but both are great.” 
How to order: Click here to order online.

Xi’an Cuisine

“Xi’an Cuisine, they do what people call Chinese hamburgers. I kind of hate that name because it’s a bun that’s been pan fried and stuffed with cumin-spiced meats-to me, that’s not really a hamburger, but I understand the desire to assign it a name you’re familiar with. Either way, they taste great.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Aji Ichiban

“Up near the Richmond Center there’s this little candy specialty store called Aji Ichiban. I love going in there for sweets-they have Japanese candies, Korean candies, Chinese candies, all the candies.”
How to order: Click here to order online. 

Nine Bar

“More recently, there have been a few pop-ups coming from second generation Chinatown kids like this one out of Moon Palace. Pop-ups are such a big COVID thing. I would be remiss not to mention them.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago
Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago
Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago

Meet Fresh

“Another place for dessert is Meet Fresh-it’s so good. And you will definitely be shell-shocked by a tiny, 90-pound Asian girl eating an entire mountain of ice cream on her own because, yeah, that’s a normal occurrence there. It’s happened to me twice now and I’m shocked every time. I’m talking a mountain of shaved ice and pudding and taro balls-delicious, but you’d need at least four people to eat it. It’s amazing.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Meredith Heil is originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that’s feet on the ground, none of that airport BS). She enjoys reading about, thinking about, talking about, writing about, putting on events about and drinking about craft beer.

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