Pilsen: From Panaderias to Punk Rock

by Fernanda DeSouza

posted on September 27, 2017

Photo Courtesy: DeCOLORES

If you're looking for a place that is extremely artsy, home to a thriving Latinx punk scene, never afraid of taking a political stance, and serves incredible Mexican cuisine, look no further than Pilsen. The once industrial neighborhood of Chicago is in a flux as young students and artists migrate to the predominantly Latino area to make a mark on the hood's vibrant cultural heritage. Vintage shops offer quirky selections, quaint coffee shops offer a quiet space to work, and if you look closely enough, you'll discover a booming culinary scene as colorful as the murals that brighten otherwise bleak streets. Great food has found a home in Pilsen, so pay close attention or you might just miss out. A taste of Mexico without leaving the Midwest.

Il Vicinato

This old-school eatery continues to serve traditional Italian staples like nonna-style ravioli and hearty tomato sauces after 30+ years. While it may not look like much on the outside, this cozy, welcoming fine dining spot will never disappoint.

Checkout: Italian sausage and pepper sandwich, Veal ravioli, Carbonara, Chicken Vesuvio

Cantón Regio

After a fire swallowed the original restaurant, the owners of Nuevo Leon opened Cantón Regio. The new steakhouse is proving that inexpensive cuts of meat don't need to be tasteless or tough and that a lively, upscale atmosphere sure doesn't hurt.

Checkout: Arrachera, Brochetas, Mollejas de Res, Fire roasted peppers


This funky, family-owned restaurant dispenses a crave-worthy lineup of traditional Mexican and Mexican-American dishes (from house-made moles to fajitas) in an earth-toned Pilsen dining room lined with local artwork and the occasional mariachi band.

Checkout: Moles, guajillo-marinated pork kebabs and margarita mixers

EL Ideas

At El Ideas, Phillip Foss reimagines tasting menus as a playful romp of delicious dishes. Diners crowd in the small room to eat courses like beef wrapped in mushroom leather with their hands and drink the booze they brought as this spot is BYOB.

Checkout: Set tasting menu

Honky Tonk BBQ

Honky Tonk BBQ is a cozy joint serving smoked meat, sandwiches and platters and featuring weekly live music. Ater winning numerous awards, this pop-up turned permanent. With delectable ribs, pork and chicken and hearty sides, how can you resist?

Checkout: Ribs, brisket, chili, mac and cheese, slaw

Kristoffer's Cafe and Bakery

Kristoffer’s might just be one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets what with its lack of a website, but to those in the know, this quiet café makes the best tres leches cakes around. For those looking to stay a while can grab a coffee to go with dessert.

Checkout: Coconut tres leches cake, Chocoflan, Mayan tamales

Dusek's Board & Beer

Dusek's allure lies in pairing two dozen craft beers on draft with creative, meat-and seafood-focused dishes in a jocularly trendy atmosphere that can put nearly anyone at ease. Come any time of day - be it dinner or brunch, Dusek's is a good bet.

Checkout: The menu changes very frequently, but look out for the P.E.I. mussels.


"This divey, old-school punk rock tavern features a photo booth, stools lining its long bar and an all-American menu of fried chicken, burgers, budget-friendly brews and mixed drinks. Expect friendly lifelong bartenders and a cash-only policy.

Checkout: The burger, fried chicken and cheap beers

Carnitas Uruapan

The menu at Carnitas Uruapan might be short, but don't let that faze you. It's short for a reason. This old-school hole-in-the-wall might just serve the best damn carnitas this side of Los Angeles. Heck, this side of Mexico. Get in line.

Checkout: Carnitas, salsa, ensalada de nopales, menudo

Birreria Reyes Ocotlan

It might be divey. It might have fluorescent lighting and ceiling tiles. But for those who know the Chicago Mexican scene, it's irreplaceable. Get over your squeamishness and order some goat birría - we promise you won't regret it.

Checkout: Birría, tacos, consome

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