Chicago Neighborhoods: Pilsen

Pilsen is the heart of Chicago’s Mexican American community whose wealth of restaurants and shops is matched by its cultural riches, much of which is found in a renowned museum. A recent influx of galleries has given rise to a bustling Chicago Arts District. The adjoining Heart of Chicago community has deep Northern Italian roots best experienced through its top-rated restaurants.

It’s all here, in Pilsen: architecture, ethnic restaurants, art (street and gallery), churches and its own vibe, all in a compact district easily reached by CTA ‘L’ train.

This neighborhood, which takes up most of Chicago’s Lower West Side neighborhood, almost seems to have been created just for you.

But this is no manufactured district; this is a living neighborhood that has evolved over generations, from Irish and German to Czech and Polish to predominantly Mexican, alongside a pocket – called Heart of Chicago – that clings deliciously to its Italian roots.

It begs to be explored, for its surprises are everywhere, from galleries and shops to carts selling tamales to exterior wall murals that can be beautiful, or challenging, or both.

The essential stop is the National Museum of Mexican Art, set in Harrison Park on 19th Street east of Damen Avenue. Its permanent collection traces the creative skills of the people of Mexico from pre-Columbian carvings and pottery to the best that the country’s contemporary artists can produce.

Then step outside, walk up to 18th Street and head east, and with the colors of storefronts (be sure to look up) and murals, and the vibrancy of the people, the museum and neighborhood seem as one.

Ely Loza, who with her husband operates Artesanias D’Mexico, a shop on 18th Street that sells examples of Mexican crafts from throughout the country, has been in Pilsen for 46 years.

“My parents never wanted to move out,” she says. Her mother is still here. “This is a very cultural area. Plenty of restaurants, a lot of art galleries and different events all year round.”

Many galleries are concentrated on Halsted Street at, and south of, 18th Street in the Chicago Arts District. Hours are irregular and often by appointment only; the best option may be to take advantage of monthly 2nd Fridays, when most are open to all. Pilsen Open Studios does its annual Art Walk in October, when as many as 60 artists put their work on display on and around 18th Street.

Unlike the galleries, the murals — some small, some large and some more polished than others — are everywhere. On 19th Street west of Ashland Avenue, the murals of a master, Jeff Zimmerman, [CQ] are huge, yet somehow intimate as they capture real-life moments. Less sophisticated, the paintings on a former church at 18th Place and Paulina Avenue have an appealing sincerity. Visitors are urged to meander and discover their own favorites while marveling at the dedication and talent that made them possible.

Step into a panaderia — say, Nuevo Leon, near the 18th Street ‘L’ station, or El Nopal on Blue Island Avenue, in business since 1954 — and let your eyes choose from an enticing array of baked goods.

And there are the restaurants.

Nuevo Leon (no relation to the bakery), on 18th Street east of Ashland, which opened in 1962, is an acclaimed neighborhood fixture. Casa del Pueblo Taqueria, on Blue Island south of 18th Street, is especially popular with local families. Carnitas is simmered pork chunks, and the carnitas at Carnitas Don Pedro, still on 18th Street, are as good as any — or for something you might rarely enjoy at home, try their brain tacos.

On 18th Street but closer to the ‘L’ station is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, a little more upscale and a little less standard Mexican, unless paella with clams and alligator sausage is your idea of standard Mexican. No one’s idea of standard Mexican are Ristorante al Teatro (Italian), Take Me Out (Asian chicken wings, some wicked-fiery) and Honky Tonk BBQ (guess) — but they’re here, too, all of them along 18th Street.

There’s no shortage of fascinating churches in Pilsen (all are open to the public during services and at other times as well; if all doors are locked, check at the rectories or church offices). St. Procopius, at 18th and Allport Streets, was dedicated in 1883 to serve its then-largely Czech parish. St. Adalbert Church (1914), 17th Street at Paulina, maintains most of the elements of its Polish heritage (Sunday masses include one in Polish), while its marble elements — the altar, its pulpit — are among the city’s most splendid.

St. Pius V, on Ashland at 19th Street, was completed in 1893 for its then-Irish parish, an origin reflected in the donor names on its fine stained glass. Especially interesting here is the Shrine of St. Jude (1929), which flanks an exquisite statue of St. Jude with seven smaller statues, most depicting folks dressed in 1920s clothing.

The statuary found throughout St. Paul ‘s (1899) — built for what was a German parish, is only part of what makes this church remarkable. The structure is built almost entirely of brick, inside and out (and notably, without a nail), and its mosaics are startling in their detail and beauty.

St. Paul’s is at Hoyne Avenue and 22nd Place, in the Lower West Side community called Heart of Chicago — or sometimes, Heart of Italy.

What attracts locals and visitors alike is, primarily, an enchanting stretch of Oakley Avenue south of 24th Street — a block-long concentration of ethnic urbanness that includes a deli/sandwich shop (Miceli’s), an alderman’s office, a dentist’s office, the Anzilotti-Bacigalupo Funeral Home and four Italian restaurants that look and sound and smell like something out of a Scorcese movie.

Bruna’s, La Fontinella and Bacchanalia have been here seemingly forever; Ignotz Ristorante, the fourth, opened in 1999. (A block away, on Western Avenue, is a fifth dinner option: Il Vicinato.)

This, Pilsen and Heart of Chicago, is truly a neighborhood for all senses.


Battle of the Viaduct Site

  • Historical Landmarks

The summer of 1877 saw conflict among workers spread across the nation. Tensions flared at the W. 16th St. viaduct at S. Halsted St. when workers fought through the night against police, state militias, and federal troops.

Free Admission | S. Halsted St. & W. 16th St.

Benito Juarez Park

  • Parks & Gardens

This open park outside of Juarez High School features a large colorful mural and about fifteen statues of historical figures, including Emilio Zapata and Benito Juarez himself.

Free Admission | 2150 S. Laflin Ave. | 773.534.7030

Bessie Abramowitz and Sidney Hillman Tribute Marker

  • Historical Landmarks

These activists led the labor movement among Chicago’s garment workers, took the struggle national and developed the mechanisms of labor/management relations. In 1910, Abramowitz started the historic garment workers strike at 1922 South Halsted Street. Selected as a Chicago Tribute Marker of Distinction.

Free Admission | 1922 S. Halsted St. | 312.744.9629

Casa Aztlan

  • Cultural Centers

The outside of this 40-year-old community organization is covered in an ongoing mural project honoring the Aztecs and modern Latino figures.

Free Admission | 1831 S. Racine Ave. | 312.666.5508

Chicago Arts District

  • Art & Architecture

The Chicago Arts District encompasses several contiguous blocks of lofts, studios and retail spaces for artists and gallerists. Every second Friday of the month, more than 30 galleries invite the public to view new and exciting exhibitions.

Free Admission | 1915 S. Halsted St. | 312.738.8000

Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction

  • Other Attractions

Chicago Tribute Markers of Distinction commemorate notable Chicagoans by marking the places where they lived or worked. Since the program started in 1997, eighty markers have been placed across the city. This number will be increased to 100 markers placed by the end of 2009.

Free Admission | 78 E. Washington St. | 312.744.6630

Former site of the McCormick Reaper Works

  • Historical Landmarks

Although there’s little to see now, a strike at the McCormick Reaper Works, once located by Western Ave and 27th St, led to the famous Haymarket Square Riots on May 4, 1886.

Free Admission | S. Oakley Ave. & W. 26th St.

National Museum of Mexican Art

  • Art & Architecture,
  • Museums & Zoos

The National Museum of Mexican Art is the largest Latino cultural organization in the U.S. The Museum presents both historic and contemporary visual arts exhibitions, performing arts events, and educational programs which conveys the depth and beauty of Mexican culture ‘sin fronteras’ (without borders).

Free Admission | 1852 W. 19th St. | 312.738.1503

Pilsen Murals

  • Art & Architecture

See the mosaics detailing Mexican icons at Cooper Dual Language Academy, (1645 W. 18th St.), Jeff Zimmerman’s painted works detailing the people and cultures of Pilsen (1900 S. Ashland Ave.), and Juan Angel Chavez’ glass mosaic “Vida Simple” at the Damen Ave. Pink Line Station (2100 S. Damen Ave.)

Free Admission | 1800 S. Ashland St.

Schoenhofen Brewery

  • Art & Architecture

The Schoenhofen Brewery, whose property includes a natural spring that once supplied fresh water for beer production, recalls a time when Chicago was a major brewing center.

Free Admission | S. Canalport Ave. & W. 18th St.

Shrine of St. Jude

  • Religious locations

While the parish was founded in 1874, this church wasn’t built until 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Free Admission | 1910 S. Ashland Ave. | 312.226.0020

St Pius V Church

  • Religious locations

St. Pius V was completed in 1885 and constructed in the Romanesque Style. It is most well know for its shrine to St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate causes, which was added in 1929 after the stock market crash.

Free Admission | 1919 S. Ashland Ave. | 312.226.6161

St Procopius/Holy Trinity Croatian Catholic Church

  • Religious locations

St Procopius was founded in 1885 by Catholic Bohemian immigrants. The outside has been beautifully preserved and the interior recently underwent major restoration.

Free Admission | 1641 S. Allport St. | 312.226.7887

St. Adalbert Catholic Church

  • Religious locations

This church, completed in 1914 by Henry J Schlacks, is one of first things seen when you step off the Pink line at 18th St. It was styled after Roman basilicas and is loosely modeled after St. Paul Church in Rome.

Free Admission | 1650 W. 17th St. | 312.226.0340

St. Paul Catholic Church

  • Religious locations

St. Paul, built by architect Henry Schlacks in 1903, was founded by German immigrants. It is known as “the church without a nail” and has been featured on the television series “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

Free Admission | 2127 W. 22nd Pl. | 773.847.7622


Café Jumping Bean

  • Dining

Café Jumping Bean is a comfortable café and gallery for local artists that serves a wide variety of coffees, sandwiches and soups. The artwork changes monthly. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1439 W. 18th St. | 312.455.0019

DeCOLORES galeria y sabores

  • Mexican

DeCOLORES combines a love of food with a love of art. Their menu focuses on fresh ingredients and beautiful artwork adorns the walls.

1626 S. Halsted St. | 312.226.9886

Del Rey Tortilleria

  • Food Retail: Grocery

Stop by the Del Rey Tortilleria at dawn to see the tortilla making in action. No tours are available, but visitors can see the tortillas made through a window and purchase tortillas as fresh as they come.

1023 W. 18th St. | 312.829.3725

Heart of Chicago Italian Dining

  • Various

Enjoy a casual lunch at Miceli’s Deli (2448 S. Oakley Ave.) or traditional Italian favorites at family-owned spots such as La Fontanella (2414 S. Oakley Ave.), Il Vicinato (2435 S. Western Ave.), Ignotz Ristorante (2421 S. Oakley Ave.), Bruna’s Ristorante (2424 S. Oakley Ave.) and Bacchanalia (2413 S. Oakley Ave).

2400 S. Oakley Ave.

Honky Tonk BBQ

  • Barbeque

Honky Tonk BBQ took 3rd place in the pork shoulder category of the 2008 Memphis World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. On the weekends, diners can enjoy live country swing music while they chow down. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1213 W. 18th St. | 312.226.RIBS (7427)

Kristoffer’s Café & Bakery

  • Dining

This popular café is known for its cozy atmosphere and its tres leches cake, which according to famous Chicago chef Rick Bayless “is the best one [he’s] ever had.” Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1733 S. Halsted St. | 312.829.4150

May St. Café

  • Latin American

May St. Café is a gourmet Latin restaurant featuring seasonal dishes with an eclectic twist on traditional Mexican and Puerto Rican cuisine. Try the Allen Brothers steaks served with a contemporary flair.

1146 W. Cermak Rd. | 312.421.4442

Mundial Cocina Mestiza

  • Mexican

Translated as “global kitchen,” Mundial Cocina Mestiza combines classical Mexican cuisine with influences from all over the world, and uses fresh ingredients for their ever-changing seasonal menu. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1640 W. 18th St. | 312.491.9908


  • American (New)

From the owners of popular Logan Square restaurant Lula Cafe comes Nightwood, a contemporary American restaurant with a daily handwritten menu made up of fresh, local ingredients.

2119 S. Halsted St. | 312.526.3385

Pilsen Bakeries and Sweets

  • Food Retail: Bakeries

Enjoy traditional favorites at Panaderia Nuevo Leon (1634 W. 18th St.), fried pastries at Don Churro (1626 S. Blue Island Ave.), delicious cakes at Galeria del Pastel (1238 W. 18th St.), heart-shaped hojarasca cookies at El Nopal Bakery (1844 S. Blue Island Ave.), and an impressive array of Mexican candies at Dulceria Lupitas (1730 W. 18th St.).

1800 S. Blue Island Ave.

Pilsen Birrierias and Carnitas

  • Mexican

Shredded goat tacos and “nose to tail” dishes are just some of the specialties at Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan, (1322 W 18th St). Savor Mexican-style slow roasted pork with all the traditional accompaniments at Carnitas Don Pedro (1113 W. 18th St.) or Carnitas Uruapan (1725 W 18th St).

1350 W. 18th St.

Pilsen Taquerias

  • Mexican

Sample Mexican favorites at some of Pilsen’s popular stops, including La Casa del Pueblo (1834 S. Blue Island Ave.), Taqueria Cardonas (1451 W. 18th St.), El Milagro, 1923 S. Blue Island Ave, Los Comales, (1544 W. 18th St).

1900 S. Blue Island Ave.

Ristorante Al Teatro in Thalia Hall

  • Italian

Built in 1892 as a Czech community center and theater, Thalia Hall is now home to Ristorante Al Teatro, an authentic Italian restaurant that brings you back to the turn of the 20th century.

1227 W. 18th St. | 312.784.9100

Simone’s Bar

  • American (New)

The interior of Simone’s Bar was created from reclaimed materials, such as booths made out of pinball machines and a bar made from a bowling lane. This welcoming spot is sure to impress. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

960 W. 18th St. | 312.666.8601


  • Bar

Owned by the same people as Wicker Park’s Rainbo, Skylark is a popular dive bar with a pinball machine, a photo booth, and a jukebox that serves cheap drinks and food, including their infamous tater tots with multiple sauces. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

2149 S. Halsted St. | 312.948.5275

Take Me Out

  • Chicken Wings

The two daughters of the owners of Albany Park’s Great Sea Restaurant have taken their popular chicken wings and given them the spotlight at Take Me Out. Other notable menu items include purple rice and lychee smoothies. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1502 W. 18th St. | 312.929.2509


Artesanias D’Mexico

  • Art

Artesanias D’Mexico carries a large variety of artisan wares from 14 Mexican states. All items are hand picked by the store owners on their regular trips to Mexico.

1644 W. 18th St. | 312.563.9779

Broadway Costumes

  • Costumes

With over 30,000 square feet of warehouse space, Broadway Costumes has every kind of outfit under the sun. They rent to high school and college theater productions, as well as to the general public.

1100 W. Cermak Rd. | 312.829.6400

Deliciously Vintage

  • Retail, Vintage & Consignment

Deliciously Vintage is a high-end vintage boutique carrying women’s fashions from designers such Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton in addition to lesser-known labels. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1747 S. Halsted St. | 312.733.0407

Durango Western Wear

  • Fashion

Selling everything from cowboy hats to belt buckles and boots, this Western wear store is one of many in the neighborhood.

4136 W. 26th St. | 773.762.2610

Knee Deep Vintage

  • Retail, Vintage & Consignment

Knee Deep Vintage is a popular vintage store known for is wide collection, regular rotation of items and very low prices. Find men’s and women’s clothing in addition to housewares, accessories and furniture here.

1425 W. 18th St. | 312.850.2510

Libreria Giron

  • Bookstores

Libreria Giron is the largest Spanish-language bookstore in the country, featuring a mix of Spanish and Latin American authors as well as translations of popular English-language books. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1443 W. 18th St. | 312.226.2086

No Coast

  • Art

No Coast is a multi-use space, art studio, art gallery, and consignment store selling prints, publications, apparel and music. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

1500 W. 17th St. | 312.850.2338

Rocio’s Children’s Wear

  • Children’s Clothing

Rocio’s offers personalized service, quality clothing and a large selection of clothing choices for both boys and girls.

3420 W. 26th St. | 773.585.3787

Soultry Shoes

  • Shoe Stores

Soultry Shoes promotes smaller designers and sells shoes for all the phases in a woman’s life. Enjoy the locally made art and jewelry displayed around the store.

1706 S. Halsted St. | 312.243.0544

Textile Discount Outlets

  • Fabric Stores

Visit Textile Discount Outlets, one of the largest and most unique fabric stores in the country, for fabrics perfect for any project.

2121 W. 21st St. | 773.847.0572


  • Women’s Clothing

Workshop is high-end boutique and studio space from eco-friendly designer Annie Novotny of Frei Designs.

818 W. 18th St. | 312.226.9000

Zientek’s Model Trains

  • Hobby Shops

Probably the only model train store/bar in the country, Zientek’s is an old Polish bar downstairs with a large selection of model train for sale upstairs and scattered about the bar area. Accessibility limitations. Please contact site for more information.

2001 W. 18th St. | 312.226.9720


2nd Fridays Gallery Night

  • Audio & Self-Guided

Enjoy artists and experience Pilsen on the 2nd Friday of each month as the Chicago Arts District hosts 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, with FREE tours to over 30 neighborhood galleries.

Free Admission | 1821 S. Halsted St. | 312.738.8000

Chicago Poetry Tour

  • Audio & Self-Guided

The Chicago Poetry Tour, produced by the Poetry Foundation, is a chance to experience the history of the city through poetry. Featuring a range of Chicago poets past and present—Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Li-Young Lee, Haki Madhubuti, Lisel Mueller, Stuart Dybek, and many more—and addressing a variety of neighborhoods and landmarks—the Loop, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Maxwell Street, Haymarket, Pilsen, and New Chinatown among them—the tour includes archival and contemporary recordings of poets and scholars, local music, and historic photographs. The tour can be experienced virtually online at, or downloaded into an mp3 player. FREE.

Free Admission | 78 E. Washington St. | 312-787-7070

Taste of Pilsen & Little Village

  • Bus,
  • Walking

It’s a fiesta for the senses in the heart of Chicago’s Mexican American community! Get a taste of the neighborhood with Chicago Neighborhood Tours before digging in to the most authentic Mexican cuisine to be had anywhere in Chicago.

77 E. Randolph St. | 312.742.1190


Cinco De Mayo Parade

  • Kid and Family Events,
  • Parades

Celebrate Hispanic culture at the Cinco De Mayo Parade on Sunday, May 6th in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Free Admission | Cermak Rd. & Wood St.

Pilsen Community Market

  • Culinary Events,
  • Farmers Markets,
  • Kid and Family Events

Pilsen Community Market strives to provide fresh, quality farm products, arts and crafts, music and information to a diverse community while embracing and connecting with surrounding neighborhoods.

Free Admission | 1800 S. Halsted St

Pilsen Mexican Independence Day Parade

  • Kid and Family Events,
  • Parades

Celebrate Mexican Independence at the Pilsen Mexican Independence Day Parade on September 15th.

Free Admission | W. 18th St. & S. Newberry Ave. | 312.671.1620

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