The best Chinatown shops

Chinatown may be best known for its restaurants, but there are plenty of worthy shops to explore, too
AJ Housewares & Gifts is one of the best stores in Chinatown.
Photograph: Martha Williams AJ Housewares & Gifts is one of the best stores in Chinatown.
By Jenny Berg |
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When you think of stores in Chinatown, your mind probably goes to touristy trinket shops. There are plenty of those, but some sleeker, more high-end shops like jewelry stores have been cropping up lately, making Chinatown more than just a destination for Chinese food, bubble tea and karaoke. Of course, Chinatown still remains a great place for candy and cheap, unique gifts—but now your options extend beyond waving-cat clocks.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Chinatown

Shopping, Gifts and stationery

AJ Housewares & Gifts

icon-location-pin Armour Square

Not recommended for claustrophobic types, this packed-to-the-gills housewares and gift shop has a mind-boggling (and slightly chaotic) array of goods. There’s a wall of beaded bracelets ($9.99 each); there are paper lanterns ($5.99) and towering stacks of pots and pans. Buried in the back, electronic lotus flowers ($29.99) light up in different hues and emanate bizarre chant-like music; you’ll also find giant, stuffed Pokemon creatures. But amid all the clutter, there is a goldmine for adorable kitchen goods. To the right of the entrance, an aisle stacked with dishes has rice bowls decked with smiling, baby-blue puppies or smug-looking pink cats ($3.99). There are also richly patterned tea sets ($29.99) and fish-shaped platters decked in floral prints ($8.99.)

Shopping, Chocolate and candy

Aji Ichiban

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This popular candy shop has a bouncy pop soundtrack for sweet tooths perusing its rows of Lucite bins, where cute packaging reigns supreme. Donan’s strawberry-caramel candies are in baby-pink boxes decked with smiling strawberries; little koala bears smile on shiny green bags carrying Lotte’s chocolate-filled cookies. There are also savory goods such as barbecue-flavored wheat crackers ($1.95), mushrooms by the scoop ($15 for half-pound), and vacuum-fried green beans ($10 for half-pound). Coolers hold fizzy Asian soft drinks adorned with cartoon fruits ($1.95).

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Shopping, Liquor stores

China Place Liquor City

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With coolers in back and rows of bottles up front—and perhaps, as on our visit, a staffer perched atop a pile of boxes, chowing down on his lunch—this liquor shop has a standard setup and a casual feel. The store specializes, of course, in Asian liquors, and the wine selection is peppered with lychee liquor ($12.99), Chinese wine ($25.99) and sparkling pink sake ($6.99). Perhaps more hard-to-find still: Hello Kitty sparkling rose wine ($28.99). There are also goods that may be more familiar to the typical Chicago shopper, such as Grey Goose vodka and Opus One wines from California.

Shopping, Jewelry

Evergreen Jewelry

icon-location-pin Armour Square

Slinging sparkly goods since 1995, this small, family-owned shop has a buzz-to-enter policy. Inside, friendly staffers stand behind gleaming counters filled with all types of baubles. There are diamond engagement rings, watches, 24-karat gold jewelry (the traditional gift for Chinese celebrations), and jade earrings, bangles ($900-$1,300) and Buddha statues ($87).

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Shopping, Arts, crafts & hobbies

Giftland

icon-location-pin Armour Square

The cartoonish sign decking the store’s exterior sets the tone for what’s inside at this kid-friendly gift shop. In the front section, there is Hello Kitty, well, everything. The whimsical white creature appears on notebooks, in the form of large plush characters ($20–$30), and on mugs, lunchboxes and toothbrush holders. Other gift items—most are suited for children’s birthday parties—include folding-crane origami kits ($1.95), teeny “message bottles” holding miniature scrolls and colorful paper umbrellas. At the back of the space, tightly packed racks hold ornately designed, silky robes (that still feel a bit scratchy) ($27), slippers ($8.99) and even kung fu shoes.

Shopping, Cosmetics

Judy's Cosmetics

icon-location-pin Armour Square

With the setup of a pocketsize department store—think gleaming counters and staffers in white coats—this shop specializes in Shiseido products. It carries five lines under the Japanese company’s umbrella (which, we were told, is more than you’ll find at your average big-box beauty department). Items include trendy skincare staples like Korean BB cream ($30); there’s also Japanese shining shampoo and curling Dolly Wink “Kiss Me” mascara ($19.99). Along one wall, a selection of facemasks from My Beauty Diary are infused with everything from caviar to Mexican cactus. Available by the box or by single sheets (about $2 a pop)—if there’s an open box behind the counter—the masks are geared toward whitening, plumping or hydrating the skin.

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Shopping

Woks ‘N’ Things

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The name gives it all away: There are plenty of woks, and plenty of chef-geared odds and ends. With the vibe of a hardware store meets a kitchen-supply place, the packed (but not too crammed) shop carries brooms and WD-40; staffers can also create spare keys in a jiffy. Along one wall, look for huge silver soup ladles, woks up to 28-inches wide ($70), bamboo steamers and sake cups with painted pandas ($5.99). Down for some random finds? The well-organized shop also carries white chef’s coats and decorative chopstick holders.

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