Things to do in Pilsen: A guide to the iconic Chicago neighborhood

Just over two years ago, Pilsen was voted one of the coolest quarters in the world by Forbes, and I totally agree. I already had an apartment in three other neighborhoods in Chicago, but Pilsen is the first place I have lived in the nearly 10 years I have spent in this city and I really feel at home. It is a beautiful, bustling and proud neighborhood – many inhabitants of Mexican-American and Latin descent – full of wonderful places to eat, drink and shop.

Most of the prominent shop windows that line the streets of the district are owned and operated by Indigenous people on the southwest side and are committed to supporting and preserving the neighborhood that builds and thrives on them. Here are my personal choices for everything to eat, drink, see and experience in Pilsen.

The information listed here may vary depending on the state of development of the COVID-19 Omicron version. Please check for the latest available updates or contact each facility directly for more information.

National Museum of Mexican Art
National Museum of Mexican Art

Get to know the land through the arts and culture

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking artistic expression, you’re in the right neighborhood. The local creative center, Pilsen Art House, once again hosts its monthly exhibitions. You can see new artists and take part in great arts and crafts events and pop-ups where food and drink are offered all year round. Pilsen Arts and Community House is planning a multi-person event, but they are starting a series of digital events, such as monthly book club talks, for the first time. (Professional tip: Visit Pilsen Community Books to see if you can buy the book locally.)

Pilsen Public Art Tours
Pilsen Public Art Tours

Of course, you can always gather on the sidewalk and admire the huge murals and eye-catching street art created by local artists, young and old, especially if you walk down 16th Street or hop on one of Pilsen Public Art Tours. ‘seasonal public walks. And if you want to end your visit with a pleasant, heated indoor session, be sure to check out the National Museum of Mexican Art, which has impressive permanent and revolving collections.

Semillas Plant Studio
Semillas Plant Studio

Make your day brighter with greens, records and a little self-care

One of the easiest ways to turn your own – or someone else’s – forehead upside down is to showcase sunny plants and blooming flowers. Black Rabbit Pilsen picks up the freshest and most dazzling stems in town, or hop in the new site of Semillas Plant Studio to get the perfect plant and adorable household accessories. Bonus? When you enter, you will also welcome their doggie mascot, Lindo, who lives there.

Shady Rest Vintage and Vinyl
Shady Rest Vintage and Vinyl

After accumulating life-giving succulents and a trendy new hanging pot, head to Shady Rest Vintage & Vinyl. You can find mixtapes …actual mixtapes – headed by old Chicago house music, along with really rough copies of old Hindi movies, and of course lots and lots of vinyl (and vintage cameras!) selected by clever owners and staff.

As it’s always time to pamper yourself, the Verde Holistic Wellness Studio, one of the most important products in the area for just over 10 years, is just a few blocks away. Take advantage of their top quality services and restore your thoughts with QiGong therapy or restore your body with a traditional massage. Continue your relaxing journey with a visit to Sanctuary Health, where services such as cupping, Reiki and acupuncture are available in a compassionate and affordable space.

Juice House
Juice House

Sip through cafés, juice bars and cocktail caves

Located in Halsted and 18th, Kristoffers Cafe offers delicious breakfast and lunch, but is also widely known for its coffee drinks, especially the magnificent Horchata Latte and the classic Mayan Hot Chocolate. The protagonist of Pilsen Café since 1994, Cafe Jumping Bean, is leaning down 18th Street, as is the mini branch of L Cafecito Jumping Bean within Damen Pink Line Station. If coffee isn’t your favorite, Juice House offers all the smoothies, juice blends and fresh immunity you need to start your day.

The Alderman
The Alderman

When the sun goes down and you’re ready for something stronger, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in Pilsen’s two newest bars. Giant Penny Whistle gives live DJs almost every night spinning anything from Drum Beats to Funk, and the best part? Almost every cocktail on the menu costs $ 10 or less. If you’re looking for something more intimate, try the Alderman, a 16-seater, speaker-style outpost inside the newly opened Pilsen Yards. They mix a lot of classics and experimental decoctions, and if they sit here, they’re sure to impress even the most discerning cocktail enthusiasts.

Carnitas Uruapan
Carnitas Uruapan

Treat yourself to excellent sweet and savory food

The Frida room is my favorite breakfast place in Pilsen. It’s family-owned, with a mixed menu of state classics and traditional Mexican plates, and Molletes never lets you down. Later in the day, head to Carnitas Uruapan, which has been flying in Pilsen for more than 40 years. Their pork carnitas (available in pounds or tacos) and their Chicharrone are legendary stuff. And for even more tacos, visit Senoritas Cantina, Taqueria Los Comales and Rubi’s, a popular booth on Maxwell Street that opened its first brick-and-mortar in Pilsen after 25 years of profession.

Bakery in New Leon
Bakery in New Leon

The sweet scent that fills the air as you walk around the neighborhood may be just Pan Dulce from Panadería Nuevo Leon or Panaderia El Acambaro. Stop anywhere and pamper yourself with the soul-giving Concha y Café, which is always fresh and always delicious. La Michoacana Premium always hits the frosty sweet spots, and if you’re a chocolate fan, check out Chocolat Uzma, which even offers dairy-free food in its mouth-watering collection.

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Shelli Nicole A Chicago-based, Chicago-based weird writer whose work on race, sexuality, and pop culture has appeared on Autostraddle, Bustle, TalkPoverty, and HelloGiggles. Follow him on Twitter @HiShelli.

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