When it’s been a little too long between overseas trips and I’m craving a multicultural encounter, all I have to do is get in my car and drive to the main campus of the college where I teach. Chicago’s Lawrence Avenue, an east-west artery north of downtown, is a patchwork of nationalities and their shops and eateries. Block by block, I can pass through The Philippines, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Israel. I can stop for spanakopita at the Greek bakery, a little phở at a Vietnamese shop, a pupusa with the Salvadorans, or some burek in a Bosnian café. I can purchase a hijab or a kebab, acquire a hookah or a loofah, listen to live music or live … poultry! The common thread on nearly every block is the steady stream of Latino restaurants, mostly Mexican, but what makes Lawrence Avenue so special is that so many ethnicities live and work side by side on this incredible miles-long stretch of road.
Lawrence Avenue starts in Uptown on the east side of the city and goes straight west from there, through neighborhoods like Lincoln Square and Albany Park, all the way to Mayfair, before it hits I-90 and then continues west through Jefferson Park and Norwood Park for a total of over 10 miles. Traffic is always a nightmare, but I’ve grown to appreciate it, for it slows me down enough to take photos and pull over constantly to sample stores and wares.
For a brief glimpse of Lawrence Avenue’s offerings, here is a mosaic of many of the places I’ve captured on my last few runs down the street. (Apologies to mobile users who may see an annoyingly long string of photos instead of the mosaic.)