The arts community has always thrived in Pilsen, and finally, over the past few years, the chefs and mixologists have caught up to the artists. While stalwarts like Don Pedro have been around awhile, relative newcomers like Nightwood and Simone’s have injected new energy into the area; kind of like Longman & Eagle instantly put Logan Square on the map (although I would argue Lula already did that). You’re not going to see Nuevo Leon on this list (Uncle Julio’s-style rice and beans say it all) but I could easily spend the better part of a weekend eating along 18th Street, and you should too.
1. Don Pedro Carnitas, 1113 W. 18th St., 312-829-4757
Three words: Deep. Fried. Pork. Plus a host of condiments and add-ons (fresh cilantro, radishes, chicharrones and pickled vegetables) that make you feel like you’ve landed in the middle of a true Mexican barrio.
2. Kristoffer’s Cafe and Bakery, 1733 S. Halsted, 312-829-4150
Three words: Chocoflan & tres leches. The first is a delicious, moist lovechild of flan and chocolate cake; beguiling in construction but simply addictive. Their tres leches are also more than respectable, available in multiple flavors, and the coffee/lattes are solid.
3. Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted, 312-526-3385
Three words: Local. Seasonal. Creative. This younger sibling to Lula is more grown-up in terms of creature comforts, but its heart is in the same place on the plate.
4. Simone’s, 960 W. 18th St., 312-666-8601
Three words: Craft. Beer. Cocktails. From Marshall, MN to Portland, OR, great beer is on tap and in bottles, while handcrafted cocktails are created with low-key flair. The food is fine, but the recycled materials used to build the space are truly mind-bending.
5. Cafe Jumping Bean, 1439 W. 18th St., 312-455-0019
Three words: Legendary. Neighborhood. Cafe. This cozy, casual cafe is always full of cops, teachers and slackers from the ‘hood munching on great sandwiches and sipping well-made lattes and smoothies.