Everything You Need to Eat, Drink, and Do in Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood
From art galleries and record shops to swanky cocktails and the best carnitas in town.
Just over two years ago, Pilsen was voted one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world by Forbes, and I absolutely concur. I’ve had apartments in three other Chicago neighborhoods, but Pilsen is the first place I've lived in during my nearly 10 years in this city that truly feels like home. It’s a beautiful, vibrant, and pride-filled neighborhood—many of the residents are Mexican-American and Latinx—brimming with amazing spots to eat, drink, and shop.
Many of the standout storefronts that line this district’s streets are owned and operated by southwest side natives, dedicated to supporting and preserving the neighborhood that built them up and made them flourish. Here are my personal picks for everything you need to eat, drink, see, and experience in Pilsen.
Get the lay of the land via arts and culture
If it's thought-provoking artistic expression you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right neighborhood. Local creative hub the Pilsen Art House is back to doing their monthly exhibitions. You can check out new artists as well as partake in great arts and crafts events and pop-ups with vendors that feature food and drink throughout the year. Pilsen Arts and Community House plans to resume more in-person events, too, but are starting smoothly by first debuting a lineup of digital happenings like monthly book club discussions. (Pro tip: Drop by Pilsen Community Books to see if you can purchase the book locally.)
Of course, you can always bundle up and hit the pavement to marvel at massive murals and eye-popping street art crafted by local artists, young and old, especially if you take a stroll down 16th street or hop on one of Pilsen Public Art Tours’ seasonal public walkabouts. And if you want to end your visit with a nice, heated indoor session, definitely check out The National Museum of Mexican Art for fascinating permanent and rotating collections.
Brighten your day with greenery, records, and a smidge of self-care
One of the easiest ways to turn your—or someone else’s—frown upside down is with a big presentation of sunny plants and blooming flowers. Black Rabbit Pilsen curates some of the freshest and most dazzling stems in town, or pop over to Semillas Plant Studio’s new location to snag the perfect plant and adorable homeware accessories. Bonus? When you walk in, you’re also bound to get a friendly hello from their resident doggy mascot, Lindo.
After stocking up on live-giving succulents and a fancy new hanging pot, head to Shady Rest Vintage & Vinyl. You’ll find mixtapes—actual mixtapes—headlined by old-school Chicago house music alongside really dope copies of vintage Hindi films and of course lots and lots of vinyl (and vintage cameras!) all handpicked by the whip-smart owners and staff.
Because it’s always time to treat yourself, Verde Holistic Wellness Studio, a neighborhood staple for just over 10 years, sits 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 relaxation journey with a visit to Sanctuary Health, where services like cupping, Reiki, and acupuncture are all on offer in the compassionate and affordable space.
Sip your way through coffee shops, juice bars, and cocktail dens
Kristoffers Cafe on Halsted and 18th serves up tasty breakfast and lunch dishes, but they’re also widely known for their coffee drinks, especially the amazing Horchata Latte and classic Mayan Hot Chocolate. Pilsen coffeehouse staple since 1994, Cafe Jumping Bean, lurks further down 18th Street, as does their mini-offshoot L Cafecito Jumping Bean inside the Damen Pink Line station. If coffee isn’t your thing, Juice House has you covered with all the smoothies, juice blends, and fresh immunity shots you need to get your day started.
When the sun goes down and you're ready for something a bit stronger, two of the newest bars in Pilsen have exactly what you’re looking for. The Giant Penny Whistle hosts live DJ’s almost every night spinning anything from Drum Beats to Funk, and the best part? Almost every cocktail on the menu comes in at a cool $10 or less. For something a little more intimate, try The Alderman, the 16-seat speakeasy-style outpost inside of newly opened Pilsen Yards. They’re mixing up a slew of classics and experimental concoctions, and reserving a spot here is sure to impress even the most discerning of cocktail enthusiasts.
Indulge in outstanding sweet and savory eats
Frida Room is my go-to Pilsen breakfast spot. It’s family-owned with a blended menu of stateside classics and traditional Mexican plates, and the Molletes will never let you down. Later in the day, head to Carnitas Uruapan, which has been repping Pilsen for more than 40 years. Their Pork Carnitas (which you can get by the pound or by the taco) and Chicharrones are stuff of legend. And for even more tacos, hit up Taqueria Los Comales and Rubi’s, a beloved Maxwell Street stand that opened its first ever brick-and-mortar in Pilsen after 25 years in the business.
The sweet smell that fills the air when you’re walking around the neighborhood might just be the Pan Dulce from Panadería Nuevo Leon or Panaderia El Acambaro. Stop by either location and treat yourself to soul-hugging Concha y Café, always fresh and always delicious. La Michoacana Premium always hits the frosty sweet spot, and if you’re a chocolate lover, check out Chocolat Uzma, which even stocks dairy-free options among its melt-in-your-mouth collection.