Day on Devon: The Tastes and Sights of Little India

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Chicago’s West Rogers Park — especially the stretch of Devon Avenue, from Leavitt Street to California Avenue — is home to one of the most vibrant Indian populations in the country. You can’t walk a block without being hit by a heady aroma of spices from a family-run restaurant, or being drawn to a storefront lined with colorful saris. A trip here is a treat for the senses of explorers young and old. So grab your little sidekick and spend an afternoon in “Little India” being lured by traditional eateries, boutiques, bookstores and pastry shops.

Get There
Trekking to Devon Avenue is a lot easier than springing for plane tickets to Mumbai. While there’s no direct El train stop there, you can take the Red Line to Loyola and then roll over on the #155 Devon bus directly to the heart of Little India. Though heavily trafficked, it’s easy to access by car, with plenty of parking along the street and side streets. Parking on Devon Avenue is metered, with two-hour maximums.


Play Dress-Up
The dozens of storefronts and sari shops give Devon its jolt of color. Choices can be overwhelming, so start with our favorite: Uma Sarees (2535 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-6302), a friendly boutique with a deep selection of children’s clothing in all sorts of colors and textures. Another vibrant option is Sonia Selections (shown in the photo above; 2334 W. Devon Ave., 773-743-8722). You’ll feel like you walked into fashionable closet in Delhi once you’ve laid eyes on its saris and shoes for all ages and sizes, plus fabric ready for customizing and cutting. Sonia also flaunts jingly bangles and jewels, perfect for pretending to be a princess.

Jalwa (2452 W. Devon Ave., 773-761-2100) is laidback and fun, and has a good selection of clothing and trinkets for little ones. Score children’s saris, bracelets, necklaces, shoes, scarves, and kurti (a type of billowy top used to cover upper garments). The shop is known for great bargains, and friendly employees are quick to point out the deals. For something more contemporary and sleek, head to Saahil (2605 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-3636), a two-level fashion emporium that has the feel of a department store, but with approachable prices.


Chow Down
When little tummies rumble, exciting flavors are never far. Hema’s Kitchen (shown in the photo above; 2439 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-1627) is a nice segue into Indian cuisine for the novice because of the familiar flavors such as yogurt-y sauces, tandoori meats, kebabs and naan. The comfortable, palatial restaurant is exotic and exciting and often features live Indian music. Khan BBQ (2401 W. Devon Ave., 773-274-8600) is a pillar of the community, renowned for tandoori platters so filling and affordable that you could feed your entire family with one order. The neighborhood is also very vegetarian friendly. If you want to keep things meat free, go to Udupi Palace (shown in the photo below; 2543 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-2152) for reputable rice dishes and pancake-like uthappam.

udupi-palaceTreat Yourself
Walking into an eatery named Royal Sweets (shown in the photo below; 2658 W. Devon Ave., 773-764-8710), you might expect nothing but confections, but this casual counter-service spot offers a lot more. In addition to plentiful sweets, from fudge-like halva to syrup-soaked gulab jamun, there are crêpe-y dosas, warming soups and finger-licking fritters. For another sugar fix, there’s Patel’s Cafe (2600 W. Devon Ave., 773-262-0100), a modern corner cafe with an appetizing sweets case, smoothies and ice cream concoctions (we love the super-rich Cadbury shake).


Explore the Markets
Devon’s food markets are rich with culture and unique-to-Chicago snacks and provisions. Duck into Kamdar Plaza (2646 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-8100) for fragrant spices and incense, plus lots of ingredients for the burgeoning Indian cook. At the in-house snack bar you can grab Indian street foods and smoothies (the house mango lassi is our favorite in the area, hands down). Another spot, Par Birdie (2234 W. Devon Ave., 773-274-1750), is clean and approachable, selling a nice smattering of Indian products and recognizable American favorites. It also has an impressive selection of flours, including bags of chappati as large as a small child, in case you want to make a stockpile of Indian flatbread at home.


Shop Around
For a break from the expected, check out the shops stocked with books, videos and gifts. Sultani Books Store (shown in the photo above; 2412 W. Devon Ave., 773-654-3108) has the feel of a cozy library, and the staff is warm and helpful. Its colorful children’s books tell the story of Islamic history, Ramadan and Hajj. There are also board games and arts and crafts projects, all with an Islamic tilt. Another good stop is India Book House/Atlantic Video (2541 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-3600), which brims with movies, CDs, newspapers, magazines and books. Finally, at Iqra Book Center (2749 W. Devon Ave., 773-274-2665) you’ll find books alongside cool trinkets, gifts, clothing and accessories.

Have fun — and filling — journey!

Have you explored Devon Avenue lately? What fun things have you found? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Matt Kirouac

Photos: Courtesy of Sonia Selections, Hema’s Kitchen, Chicago B. on Yelp, T J H. on Yelp, Sultani Books Store