Where To Eat In PilsenOur favorite places for a meal in the neighborhood.
Pilsen has something for everyone. While originally filled with immigrants from Germany and the Czech Republic, today’s neighborhood has been shaped by Mexican and Mexican-American families that have called Pilsen home for generations. So whether you want a giant plate of carnitas and chicharron, conchas and fruit-filled empanadas, or some mole that might change your life, you’ll find it all here. And if a Vietnamese tasting menu sounds ideal to you, well, that’s an option as well. Here are 21 of our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood.
Our appreciation for 5 Rabanitos grows every time we come here—and we come here a lot. This Mexican restaurant has a long menu filled with delicious food. We like the tacos, anything from the huge vegetarian menu, the short ribs in mole manchamanteles, the torta ahogada, enchiladas—basically everything. Come on a weeknight for a casual date night, or on the weekend with a group of friends so you can share the entire menu.
It’s hard to definitively classify the food at S.K.Y., but everything is excellent. You can expect things like lobster dumplings in a buttery lemongrass broth, foie gras bibimbap, and crispy seared salmon with sambal butter. The space has an industrial feel, with exposed ductwork and brick, and plays the kind of low-key indie rock music that will make you feel like you’re at a chill house party.
HaiSous serves Vietnamese food in a nicely designed modern space with really friendly service. You’re here for things like papaya salad, crispy chicken wings, and chopped clams with toasted peanuts. Along with ordering a la carte, they also offer a $68 family-style tasting menu. And if that isn’t reason enough to come here, they have a $10 food and cocktail Happy Hour Thursday-Sunday.
The giant display of chicharron by the door is a good indicator of how you should be ordering at Don Pedro. The carnitas, chicharron (clearly), and brain tacos are all excellent—get the mixed plate so you can sample a bunch of stuff. There’s always a line, and there are only a few tables inside, so plan on stopping by for a quick lunch or dinner.
Pollo Express is a small, cash-only spot with only about eight tables and a short and to-the-point menu: Chicken. Granted, you can get it in a bowl, burrito, or quesadilla, and OK, steak is an option too, but the half or whole chicken order is the correct move. The meat is juicy, and comes with a pile of soft tortillas, pickled onions, and salsa. Plus if you go on Tuesdays or Thursdays, there’s a buy-one-get-one-free half-chicken deal, so you’ll be able to eat charcoal-grilled chicken every day of the week.
photo credit: Veda Kilaru
La Malinche Coffee & Tea House is a fantastic cafe in Pilsen serving great coffee alongside tasty breakfast dishes, sandwiches, and crepes. It’s the kind of relaxed space where you can come to work alone while downing café de olla out of terracotta mugs, but it’s also an ideal spot to catch up with a friend over a plate of chilaquiles. There’s a bunch of sandwiches on the menu too, and most of them can be made into crepe form. La Malinche closes pretty late for a coffee shop (6pm during the week and 5pm on the weekends), so don’t come here if you need an excuse to close your laptop at 2:30pm.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
Dusek’s is a tavern-slash-casual restaurant in Thalia Hall, a 130-year-old theater built by a saloonkeeper who wanted to be a promoter before concert promoters were a thing. Get the four-course tasting menu for $70, with dishes like tuna carpaccio, pork belly with burnt lime, and mushroom and pepper tortellini, or order a la carte on the tavern side of the restaurant. Then go next door to Tack Room, where there’s live music on the weekends, or downstairs to Punch House, a cocktail lounge serving literal bowls of punch—all three places are owned by the same people.
If La Luna’s bright orange facade isn’t enough to catch your attention, then the quesabirria or horchata espresso martinis should do the trick. This Latina-owned restaurant serves dishes like flautas, grilled octopus, and carne asada, but also does a Sunday brunch with things like an excellent chihuahua cheese and egg-topped chorizo breakfast sandwich, which goes great with any of their micheladas. You can also stop by for various Happy Hour specials from Tuesday-Friday with $10 margaritas and $3 tacos—you might even catch some live music.
photo credit: @rubis_18st
We don’t often recommend places that are only open during the full moon of a leap year, or where you need to recite an incantation in Latin to have its location revealed. Rubi’s is an exception. This counter-service taqueria only operates from 12pm to 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 10am to 5pm on the weekends. But it’s worth rearranging your schedule to eat juicy al pastor and steak tacos that come on large, thick, handmade tortillas. Don’t be scared off by the line spilling out onto the sidewalk—tables turn over quickly, and there’s a small counter where you can sit and enjoy some of their delicious churros and watch the kitchen while you wait.
Panaderia Nuevo Leon has been a neighborhood favorite for almost 50 years, but the intoxicating smell of freshly baked bread that hits you as soon as you walk by is just the beginning. Stop in and pick up a tray, a set of tongs, and browse the overwhelming selection of pastries to pick out your two or 20 favorites. This family-owned spot carries a wide variety of Mexican pan dulce, and your tray is sure to be full of fresh cookies, conchas, fruit-filled empanadas, and more by the end of your tour around the bakery. If you’re looking for something savory to take home, they also sell a dozen flavors of homemade tortillas like spinach, chile de arbol, and black bean jalapeño.
photo credit: Derrick Koch
This might be the best spot in Pilsen for mole. In fact, La Esperanza won the 2021 People’s Choice Award at Mole de Mayo, a summer event that gives local Pilsen cooks and restaurants a chance to highlight their best recipes, with two winners crowned at the end of the fest. The owner, Rosita Camarena, takes influence from her mother’s cooking and uses chiles imported directly from Mexico in everything from their chilaquiles de mole for breakfast to her classic lunchtime chicken mole. Their extensive menu also caters to vegans with a section devoted to plant-based chorizo, enchiladas, and quesadillas. Note: They’re also BYOB.
Birrieria Zaragoza, in Archer Heights, is our favorite place for goat tacos in Chicago. But this spot is a close second. The beef tacos are a solid order, too, but you’re mostly here for the goat (which also comes in stew form). Just come with cash—they don’t take credit cards.
Tres leches cake is all the rage at this place, and it lives up to the hype. Choose between vanilla, caramel, and coconut—doesn’t matter, all are excellent. Kristoffer’s is mainly a bakery, but you can also pick up coffee and a sweet snack from the short menu. We’re hoping they’ll re-open for dine-in soon: Kristoffer’s is perfect if you like cake and need to get some work done—there’s wifi and plenty of available outlets.
Cafe Jumping Bean is a neighborhood institution that’s been around since 1994. It’s colorful, with lots of local artwork, and a popular spot for coffee, pastries, and sandwiches. Come here to study or before work for a grab-and-go breakfast. And when you do, try their Mexican hot chocolate and a mollete, Mexican bolillo bread sliced open and topped with refried beans, cheese, salsa, and avocado. Their second location, ‘L’ Cafecito, is hidden right under the Damen Pink Line station and is a quick, walk-up-only spot for coffee if you’re looking for an iced horchata before catching the train.
photo credit: Derrick Koch
“Moist” can be a divisive word, but there’s no better way to describe the tamales at Yvolina’s. Well, along with fluffy, tender, delicious…you get the picture. Instead of cornhusks, the tamales at this deceptively large counter-service spot come steamed and wrapped in banana leaves, which keeps them ultra-soft and gives the masa a faint earthy flavor. There are a variety of fillings to choose from, including multiple vegan options, and you can get them with or without mole along with a side of rice and beans.
You might have noticed that Pilsen has a lot of great carnitas spots and Carnitas Uruapan is another one of them. It’s been around since 1975, is consistently busy, and there are no signs it’s slowing down anytime soon. Eating a whole plate of carnitas here is likely to slow you down, though. In a good way.
Two reasons we enjoy Bob’s: There’s no “Bob” (the chef just likes the name) and this place boldly claims it makes “Pilsen-style” pizza (which isn’t a thing). But it’s the kind of pizza we immediately want all of our East Coast friends to try. The crust is made with beer and it’s pliable enough to fold, with a slightly-charred undercarriage and puffy outer edge. We’re big fans of the specialty pies—the pesto and stracciatella is a stand-out and so is the pickle (with mortadella and garlic cream), which sounds weird, but we promise is good.
photo credit: Akane Matsumoto
Things we love that are orange? Tang, the Reddit logo, and the tacos at Quesabirria Jalisco. They’re doused in chili-laden consommé, layered with cheese, packed with juicy beef birria (or chicken or shrimp), and crisped up on a grill. Like its menu, the counter-service space is small—there are only four tables, so unless you get lucky, plan on placing your order to go. While you wait, you can admire the chaotically charming decor, complete with Star Wars memorabilia and inspirational wooden signs that you’ve probably seen in an aisle at Home Goods.
photo credit: Derrick Koch
A lot of questionable decisions are made late at night, but grabbing tacos at Atotonilco is not one of them. It’s a large, cash-only, counter-service taqueria that’s open relatively late: 10pm during the week and 2am or 3am on the weekend. You can get their very tasty tacos (the al pastor is well-seasoned, crispy, and juicy) to-go or for dine-in while your friends who got into an argument at Twisted Cantina wait outside.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
It might be because of its size (about 1/10 the size of most Chicago breweries), or because of all the reclaimed wood and a living plant wall, but drinking at Alulu feels like sitting in a treehouse. They have 21 house-brewed beers on tap, you can order flights that include palate cleansers, and unlike your treehouse, you won’t have to hide them from your parents. Their food menu is as varied as their long draft list, with both bar classics and some Filipino-influenced dishes.
photo credit: Pochos
Pochos describes itself as “your friendly neighborhood brunch restaurant” and that’s exactly what it is. The menu at this Mexican cafe is mostly sweet and savory brunch dishes. During the week, it’s the kind of cozy yet fun place you want to stay at and hang (until 4pm, when it closes), with colorful decor and upbeat music played at a volume that’s still a vibe but doesn’t force you to yell across the table. But Pochos is extremely busy on the weekends, so expect a long wait if you visit at brunch time.