When I think of Little Italy, the first thing that comes to mind is getting Italian Ice in the summer. It took me years and countless amazing PBS neighborhood programs to really grapple with the importance of Little Italy beyond my childhood memories. Predominantly made up of Irish, French, and Italian immigrants, Little Italy began to take shape in the late 1800s as Chicago expanded and needed more labor. Jane Addams made these cross cultural transitions easier with the Hull House, a settlement and organization that helped immigrants gather to learn, socialize, and acquire skills as a means to integrate into their new environment. While the neighborhood was forced to change due to urban renewal projects such as the construction of the UIC campus in the 1960s, it adapted nonetheless. Chicago still has a large Italian population, with Little Italy as a convergence for food, culture, and history. It’s a neighborhood that deserves a lot of love, as do so many of the immigrant neighborhoods and their tireless efforts to create space in Chicago.
Here are some places to visit and support!
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607
This is probably one of my favorite places in the city. As mentioned above, this was once a settlement that consisted of 13 buildings started by founders Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. They built it to help Chicago’s large immigrant communities and provided English and Citizenship programs, day care for working parents, and art and theater classes. While most of the buildings were torn down to make way for the UIC campus, 2 buildings still stand which have become the museum. It’s not only a beautiful space dedicated to the rich history of Chicago’s immigrant past but the museum also hosts countless events throughout the year.
801 S Loomis St, Chicago, IL 60607
If you’re looking to escape, consider this little park. It’s near the UIC campus with a great view of the city skyline from the south.
Mario’s Italian Ice
1068 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607
Mario’s Italian Ice is one of those iconic places you have to check out. It’s uniquely situated on a residential block, close to the homes around it and making it integral to the neighborhood. They have amazing flavors and while there is bound to be a line in the summer, it’s absolutely worth it.
Conte Di Savoia
1438 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607
This neighborhood favorite is both a gourmet Italian grocery shop as well as deli offering sandwiches, subs, and salads. If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or want to discover more Italian ingredients, be sure to stop by.
Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap
1073 W Vernon Park Pl, Chicago, IL 60607
If you’re looking for a more traditional sit down Italian meal, then Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap is the place. Having been owned by the same family since it started in the 1930s, this restaurant is a staple of the Little Italy community. It’s both a laid back spot with amazing food.