Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has hosted immigrants from various countries since the 19th century. It got its name from the Czech immigrants who settled in the area and named it after the Czech city of Plzeň. While the neighborhood has European roots, it is now best known for its large Mexican population. More recently, artists have begun moving into the area — and galleries and gastro-pubs are popping up as a result. From eating authentic Mexican cuisine to digging through racks of vintage clothes, there’s fun for everyone. Here are our top 9 picks for things to do in Pilsen.
Go Shopping Then Grab a Drink at Thalia Hall
Thalia Hall was first built in 1892 as a public hall to host art performances, stores and more. Today Thalia Hall is a historic landmark still functioning as a public hall. There are shows almost every night as well as two bars, a restaurant and a vintage store. Kneedeep Vintage has an well-trained staff with plenty of experience in the vintage industry. They also offer personal styling services so you’ll know exactly how to rock your new piece. Punch House is in Thalia Hall’s basement and specializes in ... punch! Buy a classic or modern punch by the glass, carafe or bowl. Pair your drink with a fondue hot pot or elevated bar classics like shisito hush puppies. The Tack Room is a cozy piano bar in an old carriage house with live music every Thursday to Saturday as well as nightly piano music to accompany the carefully curated cocktail menu. Dusek’s Board and Beer is named after the man who commissioned the constructions of Thalia Hall, John Dusek. The beer list was specially curated to match the menu and if you visit on a Friday there’s brand new featured dish paired with an expertly selected draft beer.
Marvel at St. Procopius
Architecture aficionados and spiritual visitors alike can appreciate the beauty of St. Procopius catholic church. The original church was built in 1875 before being rebuilt in 1883 to accommodate the rapidly growing congregation. Now St. Procopius offers daily morning masses and four Sunday masses in both English and Spanish. Some may not feel comfortable entering the church, but it’s still a pleasure to see the 135-year-old building from the outside.
Try Mexican Street Food at La Michoacana Premium
In the mood for a sweet treat? La Michoacana Premium has you covered. The store sells a variety of Mexican treats like popsicles (paletas), mangonadas (a fruit drink with chili powder, lime juice, and chamoy sauce), aguas frescas as well as more traditional ice cream. There are a variety of flavors on offer like rice pudding, tamarind and even gummy bears.
While sweet treats are the initial draw at La Michoacana Premium, they also offer Mexican street food like elote, chicharrones and the ever-popular Dorilocos. They combine Doritos, sour cream, pork rinds, pico de gallo, sour cream, chili sauce and japanese nuts for the perfect blend of crunchy, cheesy, savory and spicy.
Eat Your Fill of Authentic Mexican Pastries
Panaderia Del Refugio is a small storefront packed with authentic Mexican pastries made in the Acambaro style, as well as a variety of cakes. Try conchas, pan dulce, rosca de reyes and more. There are sweet and savory options and if you have great timing, you can snag a goodie right when it comes out the oven. The baked treats are displayed in piles and you can stack a tray with as many as you think you can eat.
Grab a Drink at the Pl-zen Gastrocantina
Pl-zeň is a basement gastropub with a Mexican twist. A wide selection of draft and bottled beers as well as tequila and mezcal cocktails accompany the expansive food menu. Try the poblano-chorizo mac and cheese or pl-zeň burger for a unique dining experience. The owners of Pl-zeň hope to pay homage to their neighborhood not just through the name but also through the food and decor.
Get Tacos at Los Comales
Pilsen has its fair share of Mexican restaurants but Taqueria Los Comales is arguably one of the most well-established. The first location open 1973 in the Little Village neighborhood. Camerino Gonzalez started serving Mexico City style tacos in a small restaurant and quickly built a food franchise. Los Comales offers authentic Mexican food for a low price at 17 locations in the Chicagoland area. Tacos are served in the traditional style with double-layered corn tortillas, mean, cilantro and onions. As such, there are no vegetarian options but non-meat eaters can still try a torta, burrito or an order of chiles rellenos.
Check out a Local Gallery
For more than 25 years, Woman Made Gallery has showcased the work of more than 8,000 female-identifying artists. The gallery moved to Pilsen in 2017 where it’s continuing to exhibit work by women artists as well as provide professional development and host public programs to discuss feminism and art. Woman Made Gallery holds around eight juried group exhibitions each year that center on different themes of womanhood and identity.
Sip Lattes at Cafe Jumping Bean
If you’d like to drink some coffee at a beloved Pilsen institution, then Café Jumping Bean is the place for you. Serving Pilsen since 1994, this café offers a menu of sandwiches, salads and coffee drinks at an affordable price. In the 24 years since it opened, Jumping Bean has become an integral part of the Pilsen community, frequently partnering with community organizations to raise money or awareness.
Support Literacy Programs at Open Books Pilsen
Since 2006 Open Books Pilsen has been selling used books and running programs to promote literacy in Chicago. The non-profit store sells gently used books at prices as low as a dollar and almost all the stock comes from donations. Open Books as an organization provides literacy programs and book grants to tens of thousands of Chicagoans each year. The Pilsen location also has the city’s only collection of used, Spanish-language books and buyers can pay what they wish for those books.
Relax by the Fire at Moody Tongue Brewing Company
Sip on a specially brewed beer next to the fireplace at Moody Tongue Brewing Company. Moody Tongue’s brewmaster approaches his beers like a chef approaches a new dish. The result are beers that please the senses and evoke memories like an Imperial stout that incorporated the flavor of bourbon gingerbread cookies. Beers rotate constantly, so each visit is a brand new experience.