One of the hallmarks of Chicago is its 77 amazingly diverse neighborhoods, each with its own cultural history, ambiance, and personality. Chicagoans take pride in their neighborhoods, carefully choosing which to reside in and often thinking of their ‘hood as a reflection of themselves.
While there’s no way to explore every neighborhood during your two years at Chicago Booth, The Booth Experience team is here to help guide you through some of our favorites. First up in our new Neighborhood Spotlight Series: Pilsen.
For over 150 years, Pilsen has been a port of entry for immigrants. The neighborhood was named by Czech immigrants in the 19th Century after Plzeň, currently the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic. Today, Pilsen is predominantly Mexican-American, but continues to transform. It is home to some of the most amazing graffiti murals, authentic Mexican restaurants, and a budding young professional scene. In fact, Pilsen was recently named by Forbes as one of the “12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around the World.”
I personally visit Pilsen at least once a month for my monthly ritual of getting a fresh cut at Barkers Barbershop followed by tacos. Here are some ideas for spending a day in this great neighborhood.
Getting to Pilsen is easy—a quick ride on the Pink Line will do the trick. Once you step out of the 18th Street Pink Line Station, head east to Cafe Jumping Bean and start your day with coffee from this longstanding Pilsen cafe. Coffee in hand, keep walking along 18th Street and pop into the many unique boutiques and shops. If you’re hungry, grab a pastry from an authentic Mexican bakery, but don’t eat too much…it’ll soon be time for the taco lunch tour.
Given the pre-dominantly Mexican-American demographic, it’s no surprise Pilsen is home to some of the best tacos in the city. Start your taco tour towards the western end of Pilsen at Taqueria Sabor y Sazon where you’ll find handmade tortillas cradling the juiciest meats. Next, hit 5 Rabanitos for one of the best al pastor tacos in Chicago. Just across the street is the next stop: Carnitas Uruapan. True to its name, Carnitas Uruapan uses every part of the pig and even sells its meat by the pound. Finally, venture to the east end of Pilsen for Mary’s Taqueria, where a taco will run you only $2.09 and tastes like it’s straight from abuela’s kitchen.
No trip to Pilsen is complete without checking out the street art. Walk off the tacos by exploring the murals that cover many houses and alleys. A handy guide for Pilsen’s amazing street art can be found here. While you’re wandering, stop by Don Churro for fresh churros and La Michoacana Premium for the widest selection of Mexican ice cream and popsicles you’ll ever see. Be sure to conclude your art walking tour at the National Museum of Mexican Art.
With dinner time approaching, you’ll have options galore. In recent years, Pilsen has seen an influx of new trendy restaurants enter the neighborhood to serve the growing young professional population. HaiSous (Michelin Bib Gourmand) is one of my favorites for upscale Vietnamese food. The attached café Cà Phê Dá is an excellent spot for bahn mi and Vietnamese coffee as well. If you have a hankering for BBQ, Honky Tonk has you covered. For a Pilsen first-timer though, I recommend dining at Dusek’s, Pilsen’s first Michelin star restaurant. Afterwards, go upstairs to the recently renovated and historic Thalia Hall to catch a concert. Then head down to the basement and end your day with post-show cocktail punches at Punch House.
There are of course many things to do and places to go in Pilsen that I haven’t mentioned, but hopefully this is a good starting point to experience the neighborhood’s cultural history, current diversity, and eclectic energy. Happy exploring!