A little over two years ago, Pilsen was voted one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world by Forbes, and I totally agree. I’ve had apartments in three other Chicago neighborhoods, but Pilsen is the first place I’ve lived in my almost 10 years in this city that I really call home. It’s a beautiful, vibrant, and pride-filled neighborhood — many residents are Mexican-American and Latino — packed with amazing places to eat, drink, and shop.
Many of the outstanding storefronts that line the streets of this neighborhood are owned and operated by Southwestern natives, who are dedicated to supporting and preserving the neighborhood that built them and made them thrive. Here are my personal picks for everything you need to eat, drink, see, and live in Pilsen.
The information listed here may be subject to change based on the evolving situation with the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Please check for the latest available updates or contact each property directly for more information.
Get the lay of the land via arts and culture
If you’re looking for stimulating artistic expression, you’ve come to the right place. A local creative hub, the Pilsen Art House is back with its monthly exhibitions. You can discover new artists as well as participate in great arts and crafts events and pop-ups with vendors offering food and drink throughout the year. Pilsen Arts and Community House are also planning to resume more in-person events, but are starting small by first launching a range of digital events like monthly book club discussions. (Pro tip: Go to Pilsen Community Books to see if you can buy the book locally.)
Of course, you can always bundle up and hit the sidewalk to marvel at massive murals and stunning street art by local artists young and old, especially if you’re strolling down 16th Street or hop on one of Pilsen’s public art tours. ‘ seasonal public walks. And if you want to end your visit with a cozy indoor heated session, head to the National Museum of Mexican Art for its fascinating permanent and rotating collections.
Brighten up your day with greenery, discs and a little self-care
One of the easiest ways to upset your or someone else’s frown is with a grand display of sunny plants and blooming flowers. Black Rabbit Pilsen keeps some of the freshest and most dazzling stems in town, or head to Semillas Plant Studio’s new location to nab the perfect plant and adorable home accessories. Premium? When you walk in, you’re also bound to get a friendly hello from their resident doggy mascot, Lindo.
After stocking up on live succulents and a whimsical new hanging pot, head to Shady Rest Vintage & Vinyl. You will find mixtapes—real mixtapes, headlined by old school Chicago house music, some really dope copies of vintage Hindi movies and of course lots and lots of vinyl (and vintage cameras!) all handpicked by smart owners and staff.
Because there’s always time to indulge, Verde Holistic Wellness Studio, a neighborhood staple for just over 10 years, is just a few blocks away. Take advantage of their top-notch services and reset your mind with QiGong therapy or restore your body with traditional massages. Continue your journey of relaxation by visiting Sanctuary Health, where services like cupping, Reiki and acupuncture are all offered in one compassionate and affordable space.
Sip your way to cafes, juice bars, and cocktail bars
Kristoffers Cafe on Halsted and 18th serves delicious breakfast and lunch items, but they’re also widely known for their coffee drinks, especially the amazing Horchata Latte and classic Mayan hot chocolate. A go-to cafe in Pilsen since 1994, Cafe Jumping Bean, hides further down 18th Street, as does their mini spinoff L Cafecito Jumping Bean inside the Damen Pink Line station. If coffee isn’t your thing, Juice House has all the fresh smoothies, juice mixes, and immunity shots you need to start your day.
When the sun goes down and you’re ready for something a little stronger, two of Pilsen’s newest bars have just what you’re looking for. The Giant Penny Whistle hosts live DJs most nights, ranging from Drum Beats to Funk, and the best part? Almost all cocktails on the menu are $10 or less. For something a little more intimate, try The Alderman, the 16-seat speakeasy-style outpost inside the recently opened Pilsen Yards. They mix a host of classics and experimental concoctions, and booking a spot here is sure to impress even the most discerning cocktail enthusiast.
Treat yourself to exceptional sweet and savory dishes
Frida Room is my favorite breakfast spot in Pilsen. It’s a family business with a menu of American classics and traditional Mexican plates, and Les Molletes will never let you down. Later in the day, head to Carnitas Uruapan, which has represented Pilsen for over 40 years. Their pork carnitas (which you can get by the pound or taco) and chicharrones are legendary. And for even more tacos, head to Senoritas Cantina, Taqueria Los Comales and Rubi’s, a beloved Maxwell Street stand that opened its very first physical store in Pilsen after 25 years in business.
The sweet smell that fills the air as you stroll through the neighborhood could well be Pan Dulce from Panadería Nuevo Leon or Panaderia El Acambaro. Stop by either spot and treat yourself to a soul hugging Concha y Café that is always fresh and always delicious. Michoacana Premium always hits the frosty sweet spot, and if you’re a chocolate lover, check out Chocolat Uzma, which even offers dairy-free options among its melt-in-your-mouth collection.
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