(Photo: Lonely Planet)
The Pilsen neighborhood experienced a big loss last month when it’s most famous Mexican restaurant, Nuevo León, burned down after a 53 year run. Although it has been the backbone of the colorful and well-known 18th Street restaurant strip in Pilsen, this does not mean that the scene on 18th is now dead. Far from it. Here are some reasons why….
Cantón Regio – Well that was quick. This is the new spot from the owners of Nuevo León that they just opened across the street and it seems to have been in the works for years. I tried to translate the meaning of cantón regio and I think it roughly means “splendid state,” but it could also mean “food orgasm” for all I know. Either way – it’s a new concept from them with a new menu in a smaller space. The menu also seems smaller and more focused on meat and chicken – I think that’s a good thing. Damn if I’m not now craving Arrachera (grilled skirt steak) as I write this. I think they still intend to rebuild the old restaurant as well, but in the meantime I absolutely intend to check out this newest effort for myself very soon. 1510 W. 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant – This authentic taqueria has been a part of the historic neighborhood of Pilsen for 40 years and specializes in carnitas, slow roasted pork. Owner “El Guero” offers patrons his original family recipe that he brought from his hometown of Uruapan, Mexico. You can order by the taco or by the pound and you can choose which cuts of pork you prefer. They also offer some traditional items like menudo (spicy beef tripe stew) and chicharrones (crispy pork skin cracklings). 1725 W 18th St
Dusek’s Board & Beer – This is one of the best new restaurants to open in the city in recent years, not to mention having just gained a Michelin star for 2016. But don’t let that scare you. The team behind Longman & Eagle had big plans for this large corner property and the frontman for their concept is Dusek’s. The atmosphere is fun and lively and the menu offers a wide array of foods. They have everything from foie gras and sweetbreads to house made burrata and roasted chicken. Their infamous burger is known as the Juicy Lucy and sadly I’ve yet to get my hands on it. They have fresh oysters daily, not to mention a formidable beer and cocktail menu. Need a new weekend brunch spot? Yeah they do that too. The brunch menu is very much in keeping with their always inventive take on food. I’ve especially grown to really like their bar downstairs, The Punch House. It’s like a little retro neighborhood bar that feels like you might also be inside someone’s 70’s basement – and they have food too. Thalia Hall is the live music venue next door (under the same ownership) and has become an awesome new spot to see a show. Just recently the owners opened up a secret cocktail piano bar within the building called Tack Room. So if you haven’t been, go make a night of it. 1227 W 18th St
Honky Tonk BBQ – The insane influx of BBQ places throughout Chicago over the past couple of years has made sure that almost every neighborhood has their own. This neighborhood place has been around a little longer – doing it in Pilsen since 2007 and doing it well. Chef and Owner Willie Wagner has won awards for his BBQ, which includes ribs, smoked brisket, rib tips, pulled pork, and smoked chicken. Their homemade southern sides and desserts also pack a punch – butter pound cake with bourbon sauce? Uhhh yeah. Plus they have a beer, wine, and cocktail menu to match. Be sure to check their weekly live music schedule for who will be performing on their Honky Tonk Saloon Stage. 1800 S Racine Ave
Pl-zen – This place is lucky to still be around considering the huge Nuevo León fire was just next door. A newer addition to the neighborhood, this gastropub offers a creative Latin spin on typical pub food. Small plates include baby octopus, mussels, and bone marrow. Larger plates range from a black tagliatelle seafood pasta to their very serious selection of burger options. Last time I had their classic Pl-zen burger and I’ve been dying to go back because I feel like there is so much left to stuff my face with. I’ve pretty much been trying to get others to check out this place ever since and now consider yourself part of the club. Their beer menu also offers a perfect assortment of local beers and ales. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays with an option for bottomless mimosas as a nice bonus. 1519 W 18th St
Taqueria Casa Del Pueblo – Although this place is not on 18th Street, I feel obligated to mention it as this has been my go-to for tamales. My all-knowing father-in-law, who we lovingly refer to as The Knife, turned me onto this place a while ago. Well – I’ve never looked back. They tell me there are other good tamale spots in Pilsen but I’ve yet to stray, mostly because all I ever hear is positive feedback whenever I bring these bad boys to people or parties. It’s still intimidating walking into this place and figuring out how to order them but it’s worth it. Their spicy pork or cheese and pepper tamales are the standouts, but there are many other flavors. Just go one morning and get them by the dozen (don’t forget the salsas on the side) and share with your favorite amigos. While you’re at it, go to the grocery store next door by the same name and pick up a case of Mexican Coke (the soda, you degenerates!) to really amp things up. 1834 S Blue Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60608
Is there another good spot I left out? Please let the people know!