It was German and Irish railroad workers who first settled this southwest Chicago area during the mid-nineteenth century. But the neighborhood of Pilsen owes its name to the next generation of Eastern European immigrants, which brought a Czech restaurant owner to town. He dubbed his small eatery “At the City of Plzen” and though spelled a little different, people liked the sound of it and ended up calling the entire area Pilsen.
Despite a solidly European past population (including a large Bohemian community), present-day Pilsen is a predominately Mexican-American neighborhood, the largest in Chicago, in fact. The migration of Mexican families to this section of Chicago started during World War One. By the middle of the twentieth century Mexicans were the dominant cultural group. Now, Pilsen is known for its proud Latino heritage, vivid outdoor murals and authentic Mexican cuisine. Housing options include affordable single-family homes, gut rehabs and new constructions, which have added a lot of condo units to the Pilsen real estate market.
A recent spin on the neighborhood’s residential and commercial makeup has seen a new wave of “bohemians” moving into the area. Artists fleeing the gentrification of Wicker Park and Bucktown are attracted to Pilsen’s cheaper rents and budding artist community. Many creative-types have set up shop (and home) next to the cantinas, taquerias and tiendas of Pilsen’s established business-owners.
Fiesta del Sol (Festival of the Sun) is a family oriented block party held every July by the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council to help raise money for scholarships. This alcohol and tobacco-free celebration now attracts about one million people annually. Another important event is the neighborhood's Day of the Dead celebrations which wouldn't be complete without a visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art. The museum is a true Pilsen neighborhood gem and features a Day of the Dead exhibition every year, September through mid-December. Also in the fall, the Chicago Arts District invites Chicagoans down to Pilsen for a chance to visit with and enjoy the works of Pilsen's up-and-coming artist gentry.
Starving artist or not, Pilsen residents are not about to skip any watering hole with an inexpensive drink list and an eclectic vibe. Perhaps that’s why Skylark is such a popular neighborhood hangout. The decor looks like it was acquired from thrift stores with tables and chairs on loan from a community center. Pilsenites stop by Skylark to grab a burger and some tator tots or other comfort food favorites, like a big old bowl of mac and cheese, and relax with a game of pinball and a cheap draft. For a shot of local color – and a shot of tequila – drop into El Gato Boracho (which translates to: The Drunken Cat) or Los Amigos and share a round with the regulars.
For authentic Mexican cuisine, Pilsen is the place. Stop in for some tripe soup at Nueva Leon, or head to Picante Grill, which makes its own tortillas as well as one heck of a margarita. Mundial Cocina Mestiza tries its hand at a bit of culinary fusion by combining traditional Mexican cooking with Mediterranean cuisine – and the results are delicious. Looking for something a little more American? Or maybe just a little more Chicago? Try Benny's Pizza, they've got the pizza, pasta and Italian beef you crave. Lawrence's Fisheries serves up seafood 24/7. Located in a former fishery, Lawrence's sells fish, crab (and even frog legs) by the pound and will whip you up a great fish and chips platter.
Pastries from Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery or coffee from Cafe Jumping Bean can really make the morning commute a more pleasant experience. Pilsen residents also get hooked up with caffeine and sugar fixes from Efebos Internet Café, and check their email while they’re at it. Efebos is a little more upscale than your typical a.m. stop, but there's also a little more variety for sandwiches and coffee options than at Dunkin’ Donuts or the like. For your organic grocery needs Soy Organic Market is the place to stock up on tofu, soy milk and other essential foodstuffs.
As far as public transportation goes in Pilsen, the trains and buses are quite efficient at covering every corner of the neighborhood. The CTA Pink and Blue lines cut right through the middle of Pilsen with stops at Western Avenue, Damen Avenue and 18th Street. The Halsted Street and Western Avenue CTA bus routes run north/south, while the Cermak Road bus heads east/west. For Pilsen residents with cars, the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) crosses through the eastern edge of the neighborhood and connects with the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) for a short drive to the Chicago Loop.Chicago neighborhood and real estate information