Hop off the Red Line at Argyle for Southeast Asian treats of past and present

CHICAGO — Located in an area filled with unique character and a lot of culture, Argyle is the northernmost Red Line stop in the Uptown neighborhood.

Like many in the area, Tuyet Ngo grew up there and has made Argyle’s future her mission, and works with the Vietnamese Association of Illinois to preserve the businesses that made Asia on argyle so special, while breathing new life into the community.

"This is kind of like the 'Little Southeast Asia,'" Ngo said. "Post-Vietnam War a lot of Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants settled here in this neighborhood and built this community up."

Food is a huge draw to Argyle, including popular Vietnamese and Chinese baked goods, as well as fresh Vietnamese favorites like bon say-oh , goy do do and bon hoy cooked in homey café kitchens.

Erin and JiJi Hoang are the owners of the new First Sip Café but familiar faces to customers, having grown up working in their parents café right down the street.

"We never thought we would open our own business because we saw it and were just like, no we’re never doing that," x said. "And here we are a block away from our parents," x said.

First Sip Café is also the first coffee shop to open in the area in two decades. With an extensive hot and iced coffee and tea menu, they offer creative combinations like pistachio mint, and coco and lavender. There are baked goods, pastries and sandwiches, brought by a second generation hoping to spark a renewed interest in the area.

"What’s been rewarding to the both of us is seeing how this neighborhood has changed, and for us now being business owners we feel like we more have an impact on that change," x said.

Beyond food, Argyle is home to interesting shops, including some with selections that blend of the tastes of the older and younger generations, much like the neighborhood itself.

That includes Ellen Duong's Q Ideas, a plant, home goods and restaurant supply store her parents opened 16 years ago. There's plenty of cute offerings there, including smiling buddhas, beautiful trinkets, statues and even jade. But it's the tropical plants Ellen loves best, including avocado trees, lemon trees, mango trees and jasmine plants.

Summer night markets held in the months of July and August brought new crowds to the area in recent years, drawing about 45,000 people over the nine week run this past summer alone.

"The space is just a lot different," Duong said. "It’s always been friendly but its always been its own special world, it’s really nice to have a lot of different people come in and visit and be curious."

The neighborhood is also rolling out changes that move it towards a booming future, without forgetting the past. A unique shared-street design finished two years ago eliminates curbs and leaves more room for pedestrians and businesses to use safely.

"There’s definitely a new energy going on and coming in," x said.

"Keeping the cultural and ethnic heritage of this area is really important to us," y said.