Cultural diversity and small-town character converge in Chicago’s North Side neighborhood.
A historically Swedish community, Andersonville today is a collage of cultures. Walk along Clark between Foster and Bryn Mawr, and you’ll come across hookahs, sushi, handmade soaps, pastrami sandwiches, antiques, tempeh burgers, and Persian teas. Andersonville is home to a vibrant LGBT community, including many LGBT-friendly businesses. At night, the Church of Philadelphia vintage neon sign illuminates the street and adds to the eclectic character of this North Side neighborhood. Still, signs of the past are visible—you can learn about the neighborhood’s founders at the Swedish American Museum, and choose from 40 varieties of traditional cookies at the Swedish Bakery. Above it all, painted on the historic water tower, the Swedish flag soars. All are welcome here, giving this neighborhood the feeling of small-town Main Street at its most diverse.
Authentic Persian and Mediterranean cuisine awaits diners at Reza’s, a small local chain of four restaurants. At this Andersonville location, the dining room is set in a former microbrewery with high ceilings, exposed brick, and widely spaced tables that are ideal for date night. On warm days, the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant are left open, creating a bright, airy environment. The expansive menu can be overwhelming, but highlights include the chicken koubideh kebab, ghormeh sabzi (vegetable beef stew), and dill rice. For a sampling of traditional favorites, opt for the affordable lunchtime buffet available on weekdays.
The Swedish Bakery
Since the late 1920’s, the Swedish Bakery has been serving European-style pastries, cakes, and breads inside a standalone red-brick building in Andersonville. The bakery’s interior is lined with glass cases brimming with homemade favorites such as cardamom braids, lemon rolls, cherry strudel, butter cookies, and marzipan, previously featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The cartoon-like marzipan frogs are particularly popular, as are the moist cupcakes and the traditional limpa bread. Seating is limited, so most patrons take their treats to go.
Swedish American Museum Center
An homage to Swedish-American history and culture, this three-story museum is located in Andersonville, one of the country's most concentrated areas of Swedish culture. Established in a small log cabin in 1976, the museum is now a 24,000-square-foot facility housing a special exhibit gallery as well as a permanent exhibit entitled "The Dream of America – Immigration to Chicago." There, visitors find authentic artifacts, including passports, folk crafts, and household items. The Brunk Children's Museum of Immigration features hands–on exhibits just for kids, such as a replica of a century–old Swedish farmhouse where young patrons can milk a cow.
At this tiny Andersonville eatery, a limited menu and extensive wait times are a small price to pay for what's often named the best pizza in Chicago. Run by passionate owners Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza, Great Lake is famous for pies that are (slowly) handmade to order and topped with fresh, locally-grown, organic ingredients. The ever-changing menu offers three to five pizza options that combine chewy crust with inventive topping combinations like cremini mushrooms, goat cheese, and black pepper. The 14-seat interior is sparsely designed with hardwood floors and a few shelves of gourmet dry goods for sale. BYOB. Dinner for two $50.
Touted as a traveler’s café, Kopi has that backpacker vibe. Kopi, Indonesian for coffee, welcomes customers to sit on floor cushions and sip coffee drinks and cocktails at low tables. The servers are relaxed and friendly, and vegetarian offerings dominate the menu. Order a Kopi garden burger and antioxidant green juice drink.
Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery
This neighborhood favorite offers a selection of delicacies. Choose from a variety of savory pies from the deli: lamp and potato; spinach and feta; parsley, olive, and cheese; and many more. Opt for pistachio, walnut, and almond baklava for dessert. Browse through the myriad of colorful spices, beans, and grains. And don’t forget to admire the ornate hookahs.
A space dedicated to more than 90 merchants and their wares, Andersonville Galleria is a truly distinct destination in the city. This neighborhood favorite sells clothing, jewelry, artwork, housewares, accessories, antiques, and gourmet treats; and supports small, local retailers. Come on the first Friday of each month, when you can sip wine while you shop.