Byline: Pam DeFiglio
Any tourist can visit the big downtown museums, but we locals have been to them a dozen times, anyway.
Why not get to the heart of what Chicago's all about and visit its ethnic museums?
They have notable art, worthy collections and, in some cases, very creative programs. So you can learn to shape pierogi, speak German, make wine and perform Irish dances.
This is stuff you just can't get at the Art Institute.
Chicago's ethnic museums tell the story of how the poor and hopeful - maybe your great-grandparents - arrived from all over, hoping for a paycheck in The City That Works.
But don't stop at your own ethnic group. Half the fun is discovering other people's art and history. And did we mention food?
Here's a quick guide to some of Chicago's ethnic centers and museums, complete with tips on where to eat so you can make a day of it.
Irish American Heritage Center
One cool thing, even if you aren't Irish: An annual art exhibit examines the similarities between the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow- en), since both holidays concern themes of death and rebirth.
Other good stuff: Lots of activities, including live theater, concerts, a library, major St. Patrick's Day and summer festivals, a James Joyce day in June, special events and a Christmas concert Dec. 15. It also hosts five Irish dance schools, two music schools, Gaelic classes and two choirs.
Gift shop: No.
Eat at: The Fifth Province pub, located in the center, serves sandwiches and hosts live Irish music performers on Friday and Saturday nights.
Details: The heritage center is located at 4626 N. Knox Ave., Chicago. Museum and gallery open by appointment. (773) 282-7035. www.irishamhc.com
DuSable Museum of African-American History
One cool thing, even if you aren't African-American: See Malcolm X's 1963 letter to author Alex Haley, saying he was ready to be interviewed. After Malcolm was assassinated in 1965, Haley released "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," which made Time's top 10 non- fiction books of the century.
Other good stuff: Sculpture, textiles and video from Africa. The Kinsey Collection's art from the time of slavery to modern masters. The big, sweeping bronze sculpture, "Children of the Amistad."
Gift shop: Yes.
Eat at: Dixie Kitchen, 5225 S. Harper Ave., or Calypso, 5211 S. Harper. Stroll around Hyde Park and the University of Chicago quadrangle.
Details: The museum is located at 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. $3. (773) 947-0600. www.dusablemuseum.org
Italian Cultural Center
One cool thing, even if you aren't Italian: Mamma mia! The model of St. Peter's Square nearly fills a whole room. See Bernini's colonnade, topped by 140 statues, and the basilica designed by Michelangelo and others. Every detail is rendered like the original in Rome.
Other good stuff: A wooden Madonna statue from the 1300s, the "Italians in Chicago" exhibit, paintings and sculpture. Try to come during a special event, art exhibit, film screening, opera lecture or cooking class. There are also Italian classes for children and adults and festivals, including the Festival del Vino. A Vocal Scholarship Awards dinner, with winners performing arias, will take place Sunday at 5 p.m.
Gift shop: No.
Eat at: Cafe Amano, 105 S. York Road, Elmhurst.
Details: The cultural center is located at 1621 N. 39th St., Stone Park. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays; phone at other times. Free. (708) 345-5933.
Spertus Museum of Judaica
One cool thing, even if you aren't Jewish: Spertus has closed its old facility and has built a sparkling new building, which will open Nov. …