Since this week is all about our newest destination (and home) – Chicago! – we thought we’d end the week talking about Chicago’s ethnic cuisines, which are usually geographically bound to a certain neighborhood.
Chicago’s food scene is well known, and it is one of the top culinary destinations in the U.S. But many visitors don’t realize that if you get outside the central “Loop” area you’ll find a maze of distinct neighborhoods that feature a stunning array of culinary delights. One thing to keep in mind, the neighborhoods change – what was once an orthodox Jewish neighborhood can become Little India. What was once the home away from home of the Czech can morph into the home of Mexican immigrants.
Chicago has far too many ethnic neighborhoods to cover in a single blog, so expect this to turn into a regular series. But first, one of my favorites!
I spend a lot of time in Pilsen, as it’s where my younger son’s school is located. But even without that incentive, I’d come here just for the food. What started as a German and Irish neighborhood became a predominantly Czech one (the neighborhood is named after the Czech town of Plzen). But the second half of the Twentieth Century saw it become a hub for Hispanic immigrants, mostly from Mexico. Today Pilsen is also known as a hipster neighborhood (it boasts its first Michelin-star restaurant, Duseks, and some other favorites such as the Pleasant House Bakery, which specializes in savory royal pies, and Simone’s bar): but at heart its cuisine is still Mexican.
I’ve heard from those who know that the cuisine in Pilsen is authentically Mexican and not Americanized (or Tex-Mex influenced) versions of it. From the famed Don Pedro’s, where they butcher their own hogs and use every part of the animal (the pile of “chicharrones” or fried pig skin in the front window is jaw-dropping), to the excellent tacos at the Casa del Pueblo, to the innovative tamales of the Dia de los Tamales, Pilsen’s Mexican cuisine only gets better. It is true the neighborhood lost the generations-old stalwart Nuevo Leon in a fire late 2015, but the owners opened a new spot (Cantón Regio) just weeks later across the street.
Another interesting part of Pilsen: the wall art. The stretch of 16th Street that runs through the neighborhood displays mural after magnificent mural painted in on the side of the train viaducts and sometimes on the sides of buildings. Some of the murals are decades old, others recent additions.
You can explore this neighborhood (and others) on our newest tour, Food Lover’s Chicago. It combines accommodations in our favorite US city (sorry New York!) as well as a cooking class and food tour. Contact us for details!
By Peg Kern
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