Every Thursday in the second half of the summer, a single block of Argyle Street runs rampant with aromas of decadent street foods, the sound of Taiko drums pounding through the air and hundreds of people going from tent to tent to get a taste of Uptown’s best delicacies.
From 5 to 9 p.m., the Argyle Night Market located between Kenmore Avenue and Sheridan Road — with its duckwiches, raw coconut drinks and banana sweet rice cakes — brings together the standouts of Asia on Argyle, a neighborhood-given name which highlights the diversity of the area.
The market has been an annual convention for the past seven years. Greg Carroll, the director of partnerships and events for Uptown United, has been working with the market since year three.
“I think there’s been a lot of efforts put into this district to make it safe and make it a place where people want to come out and walk around at night,” Carroll said in an interview with The Phoenix. “But I also think people in the community take a lot of pride that they have this amazing district in their neighborhood.”
For eight Thursdays in July and August, the block becomes somewhat of a safe haven for the community, according to Carroll. Inquisitive children talk to police officers while adults get to know their neighbors. Nearly everyone partakes in the exchange of a few dollars for serving-sizes of delicious food.
Each individual tent is run by a business, most of which come from Asia on Argyle, Uptown or the surrounding area. Among the most popular is Sun Wah BBQ (5039 N. Broadway), which received the prestigious America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation. The restaurant serves its signature “duckwich” — slices of duck with garnish and sauce wedged in a bao bun — to anyone with three dollars.
Other vendors include Tank Noodle (4953 N. Broadway) and Pho Xe Lua (1021 W. Argyle St.), both of which specialize in Vietnamese street food and have restaurants in the area.
While Vietnamese fare is a staple of the market, a variety of other cultural cuisines are available. Kie-Gol-Lanee (5004 N. Sheridan Road) serves traditional Oaxacan-Mexican cookery while Immm Rice & Beyond (4949 N. Broadway) shows off its take on Thai street food.
From egg rolls to spring rolls, everything tastes freshly made and much of it is prepared right before the customers’ eyes. The duckwiches are perfectly tender, the chicken kabobs are seasoned just right and the banana rice cakes are sweet with a hint of savory.
The food isn’t the only thing that makes the market worth attending — there’s also foot-tapping cultural performances every night.
The market works with Chicago’s Elastic Arts, which provides the talent for each week, ranging from Taiko drummers to Hawaiian dancers to circus artists from Tsukasa Taiko, the Aloha Center and CircEsteem, respectively.
The music of each evening begins with a drum circle from 5:30 to 6 p.m., which amps up the crowd under a setting summer sun as drummers harmonize their varying rhythms on bongo drums.
Carroll said the musical performances and the market as a whole wouldn’t be possible without Asian Human Services, a non-profit organization that seeks to help immigrants and refugees by providing them with helpful resources and support.
“[Asian Human Services] sought us a couple years ago, wanting to get involved with the night market, and came in at a level when we had lost funding for our main stage and some of the bands,” Carroll said. “They stepped in and helped us for the last two years. We love that they see the value in being here and supporting this community.”
The Argyle Night Market will be open every Thursday night through the end of August, and with the undying support of the community, it’s likely to remain a beloved summer tradition for years to come.