20 Essential AAPI-Owned Businesses in Chicago
From dim sum and Thai favorites to KPop megashops, game-changing gyms, indie coffee roasters, and so much more.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has officially begun, and not a moment too soon. As we all know, the recent spike in hate crimes targeting the AAPI community throughout the country has been more than alarming. And the onset of the pandemic also saw many small businesses, particularly those owned by AAPI individuals, suffer financial setbacks that made it incredibly difficult to keep their operations afloat. This spring, make meaningful and direct change here in Chicago by spending your money at the numerous restaurants, bakeries, breweries, and shops that make our city the great metropolis it is.
Here are a few of our favorite AAPI-owned local outposts, from dumpling joints and ramen shops to upscale Indian restaurants and so much more. Can’t get enough? Keep the good times rolling by hitting up this year’s AAPI Restaurant Week, running from May 13 to 22, for an ultra-satisfying deep dive into Chicago’s Asian- and Pacific Islander-helmed culinary landscape. And remember, while May is a great time to show your support, you can find countless grassroots movements, organizations, and charities out there championing both the local and global AAPI community all year round.
Siam Noodle and Rice
Patrons have been traveling long distances to enjoy this family-run stalwart’s homespun Thai recipes for over 30 years now. Highlights include the Papaya Salad, Basil-fried Rice, and Fried Chicken Wings. Make like a local and order a side of Sticky Rice laden with homemade peanut and sweet and sour dipping sauces as a game-changing pre-meal snack.
How to support: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order takeout online.
This fitness studio will get you feeling good physically and mentally. Owner Minky “LiftyBoi” Kim opened Han after finding it hard to locate inclusive gyms in Chicago. Kim’s studio is a trauma-informed, financially accessible, fat-liberated, and gender-affirming space, with classes curated for all bodies, styles, and intensity. Try Exploration, an intentional movement class, or FAAFO (i.e. fuck around and find out) to learn all about combat defense basics.
How to support: Browse and book appointments online.
Based in Chicago, Fat Milk is an artisanal coffee company slinging some of the best Vietnamese brews around. Here, it’s all about the hyper-caffeinated, bold, and earthy bean variety called robusta. To make traditional Vietnamese coffee—called cà phê sũ’a đá—they recommend brewing the beans slowly, pouring the liquid over a glass filled with a mound of ice, and adding a nice splash of condensed milk to finish. Each of their four roasts features different tasting notes, from nutty and bold to caramelly and balanced. Seek out their beans at area vendors like Urban Market, Uni Uni Bubble Tea, and Local Foods Market.
How to support: Stop by your nearest retailer or browse and shop online.
Launched in 2020, Azadi Brewing churns out refreshing suds inside Logan Square’s craft incubator Pilot Project Brewery. Co-founders Bhavik and Gator act as the brewmasters, and their beers are infused with the flavors of Bhavik’s Indian heritage. Try Kavi, a golden ale teeming with notes of cardamom, lemon, and pepper, or Gir, a Kesar Mango IPA bursting with juicy mango and a generous dash of hops to deliver a refreshingly bitter punch.
How to support: Reserve via Tock.
Five Elements Home
Founder Yaoyu Tong’s standout homegoods store is filled with artisanal Asian kitchen and bathroom accessories, as well as other choice domestic items. The shop is named after the Chinese philosophy wŭ xíng, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. Each item is categorized under each of the five elements and is meant to be an intentional addition to your home, from Japanese incense produced in Awaji Island (fire) and tie-dye throws made by Indigenous people in southwest China (water), to porcelain chrysanthemum-shaped hand-painted bowls (earth).
How to support: Stop by to browse and shop or order online.
This family-owned plant nursery is your go-to for bonsais, cacti, and house plants alongside gardening tools and pots. The store also sells other knick-knacks and wholesale kitchenware items, and if you're lucky, their very cute staff member Coco the dog will be around to say hello.
How to support: Follow them on Instagram for inventory updates.
Living Water Tea House
You’ll find a selection of brewed and loose-leaf teas, handmade accessories, bubble teas, matcha lattes, Japanese cheesecakes, Chinese puff pastries, and other delicious draws inside this East Asian-inspired modern tea house. Besides the teas and treats, the space’s minimalist atmosphere immediately evokes a sense of peace and serenity. If you're a tea newbie, check out their free Let it Steep workshop every Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 pm.
How to support: Stop by for first come, first served seating.
Chocolat Uzma Sharif
Owner and founder Uzma Sharif uses spices like chili, cayenne, cinnamon, floral cardamom, and other flavors found within her South Asian heritage and blends them into her magnificent chocolate creations. This highly recommended, artisanal chocolate shop delicately crafts their sweets in small batches and they almost are too pretty to eat. In addition to bars, the shop sells sipping chocolates, cookies, brownies, cake, and handcrafted marshmallows.
How to support: Stop by for counter service or browse and shop online.
Coffee Lab & Roasters
This cheery Lake View cafe serves specialty coffees made from their house-roasted beans, and sources many of their yummy food and ingredients (like their Chai and baked goods) from local purveyors. Despite the challenges of 2020, owners Helen and Peter Kim have kept the neighborhood buzzing with this nurturing and unpretentious space. Go for the smooth and robust Slow Drip Cold Brew or a Kyoto Iced Coffee infused with their freshly ground beans.
How to support: Stop by for counter service or order takeout via Ritual.
Founded by Executive Artistic Director Pranita Nayar in 2014, South Asian Performing Arts aims to foster a deeper appreciation and love for the artistic traditions of South Asia here in Chicago. The organization showcases this vibrant heritage through an eclectic variety of dance, theater, musical performances, educational classes, and outreach programs. Visit their website to catch a music or dance performance, or to register for one of their open adult classes in tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, or Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical dance tradition in India.
How to support: Learn more, purchase tickets, register for classes, and donate online.
You’ll find plenty of mouth-watering dishes at this family-owned Plate Lunch restaurant—and if you’ve never tried SPAM before, this is the place to do it. The Plate Lunch is a Hawaiian-style meal that usually consists of creamy Macaroni Salad, a scoop of rice, and your choice of Fried Shrimp, Kalua Pork, Chicken Katsu, BBQ Beef, and more. And don’t sleep on the “All Things SPAM” category, which prominently features the ever-popular Spam Musubi—a block of cooked rice stacked atop a thick cut of grilled spam and wrapped in a strip of seaweed.
How to support: Stop by for counter service or order takeout and delivery online.
No list would be complete without one local darling Kasama. A bakery by day and fine dining restaurant by night, this Filipino outpost is among Chicago’s newest to receive a Michelin Star. For breakfast, try their famous Longsania, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich—it’s so darn good, in fact, that we named it one of the very best meals of 2021. For dinner, the 13-course tasting menu requires a reservation in advance, and though it may be hard to snag a seat at the table, trust that chef Timothy Flores’ masterful compositions are well worth the effort.
Chiu Quon Bakery
Putting out some of the best sweet and savory buns, egg tarts, cookies, and specialty cakes in Chinatown since 1986, Chiu Quon Bakery is recognized as Chicago’s oldest traditional Chinese Bakery. The head-spinning variety might be disorienting at first, but you’re bound to be happy no matter which oven-fresh snack is currently calling your name.
How to support: Stop by for counter service.
KPop of Chinatown
Whether you're shopping for a KPop-curious or a bonafide superfan, this humble storefront is filled to the brim with all the albums, posters, socks, t-shirts, and every other piece of KPop paraphernalia you could ever imagine. And for the KPop skeptics out there, a quick perusal through the store's aisles will certainly help you gain an appreciation for this unstoppable global phenomenon.
How to support: Stop by to browse and shop.
Since opening its doors several years ago, Kumiko has created quite a buzz in Chicago’s culinary scene and for good reason—detail is an essential characteristic of each drink and dish over at this chic West Loop den. The concept was inspired by accomplished cocktail whiz Julia Momose’s background growing up in Kyoto, and infused with her fervent love for all things bartending and hospitality. The cocktail program revolves around Japanese-style renditions of the classics and can be enjoyed alone, or paired with any of their incredible sweet and savory bites.
Basant Modern Indian Restaurant
Named after a spring Indian festival that welcomes new beginnings, Basant is the realization of a local father and son’s longtime dream. Jeet Singh and Manmohan Singh launched their restaurant in 2020, whipping up traditional Indian cuisine with a distinctly modern twist. Noteworthy menu items include the Somas, Pork Belly Achar, Malai Kofta, and the unparalleled Chicken Basant.
Sun Wah BBQ
Chef Eric Cheng’s recipes have been dazzling taste buds ever since 1986. Cheng first opened his Hong Kong-style barbecue joint in New York City's Chinatown, but soon decided to move the operation to Chicago—and are we ever grateful. Sun Wah still operates as a family-run entity and the menu spans all things Asian ‘cue from Spare Ribs and Chicken to Pork and Shrimp. But if you know what is good for you, the off-menu Beijing Duck is the real show-stopper.
How to support: Call 773-769-1254 to reserve and order takeout.
This fun and funky late-night Korean-inspired bar serves up Korean BBQ Bowls, Seoul Sliders, and addictive street snacks like K-Popcorn Chicken and Noodle Dumplings. Soju plays a key role in colorful cocktails like the Seoul-Ito, a mojito riff spiked with white rum, Jinro soju, mint, lime, and a 12-year rum floater. Along with weekend events and live DJs, a free—yes, free—digital photo booth ensures a memorable night out on the town.
Family members Marlon Tan, Cybil Tan, and Malvin Tan are the masterminds behind Cebu, a modern Filipino-style bakery and restaurant known for traditional dishes like Lumpia, Bam-I, and Sigsig. And if you find yourself in the western ‘burbs, the Tan family recently expanded to Naperville with Cafe Cebu, an upbeat outpost serving boba tea, cookies, cake rolls, and an excellent version of Halo-Halo, a shaved ice and condensed milk Filipino dessert loaded with a variety of ingredients like flan, ice cream, fruit, coconut flakes, jam, and more.
How to support: Reserve via Tock or order takeout and delivery via Toast.
Enjoy a glass of Japanese sake or fine aged whiskey at this classy-yet-casual sake and karaoke bar. Sip your way through their extensive list of spirits while snacking on a lineup of Japanese small plates, or otsumami. A roundup of DJs set the tone on the weekends, and if you’re into creating your own vibe, an eclectic list of English, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese songs are waiting to be belted over in their private karaoke room.
How to support: Stop by for first come, first served seating.