Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Sun October 18 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | October 18, 2015 1:00 AM ET

    Exploring Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood

    Exploring Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood

    All photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    I always have to explain to Chicago visitors that downtown tourist meccas like the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier do not count as the real Chicago. This is a city of 77 neighborhoods and you will only get a real sense of Chi-town by venturing into them, one at a time.

    As a born and bred Windy City girl, I have quite a few faves, and one of them is the Pilsen. This west-side community is filled with so much art, culture and Mexican heritage that it qualifies as a must-see destination. Strolling through Pilsen's vibrant streets showcases Chicago's eclectic history and energy.

    Just two miles south of the Loop, Pilsen is an artistic hub with vibrant murals covering almost half of the buildings and train platforms. The community boasts almost 400 of these works, and they portray everything from Aztec folklore to super heroes and religious icons. It's the diversity of public art that draws most people; you can create your own art walk by wandering down 18th Street or you can take one of the many organized walking tours. 

    For another perspective, duck into the dozens of galleries and art studios that display other media, including sculpture, ceramics and installations. A stop by the National Museum of Mexican Art is essential, if not for the array of exhibits and workshops, then for the colorful gift shop, which stocks stunning pieces from all over Mexico.

    What I love about Pilsen is that much of the culture is woven into the community and is free for all to enjoy. Besides the murals, Pilsen showcases some of the oldest housing architecture in the city. The neighborhood is one of the few that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and most of the buildings retain the European flourishes of the original Bohemian residents.

    The neighborhood is noted for its mixed-use structures, with factories, houses and storefronts in close proximity to each other. The baroque architecture and dense ornamentation on the small bungalows have helped Pilsen obtain a National Historic Landmark District designation.

    Another element that lures lots of visitors to Pilsen is the wide selection of authentic Mexican cuisine. From elote (roaster corn) trucks to panaderias (bakeries) and dulcerias (candy shops) to upscale restaurants, Pilsen has it all.

    Regardless of your foodie tastes, sampling the extensive menu at Nuevo Lean is a requirement. A Chicago institution, this friendly, family-owned dining spot serves up expertly prepared Mexican classics like enchiladas and barbacoa at super low prices. The lines are always long but move quickly. It's a cash only place so bring some bucks to top off your Pilsen visit with the signature carne asada. 

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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