Of all of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, there is perhaps none more colorful than Pilsen. Located on Chicago’s Lower West side, Pilsen is a cultural oasis splattered with a kaleidoscope of murals by an impressive array of artists. In fact, the area’s world-renowned revolving display of murals is so prominent it is impossible not to be struck by the panoply of artwork covering nearly every building and corner of this richly artistic community. This is particularly so on the walls of the 16th Street Murals, an old railroad embankment where the murals of both well-established and emerging artists co-exist in a beloved outdoor gallery that is a must-see on any visit to Pilsen. This jaw-dropping display is a testament to and outgrowth of the art scene that thrives at the neighborhood’s core.
Along several blocks of Halsted Street, known as the Chicago Arts District, you’ll find a diverse collection of galleries highlighting the work of local artists. Prior to the COVID pandemic, one of the best ways to explore these galleries was a monthly event known as 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, where galleries and artist studios would open their doors free of charge. Unfortunately, these events continue to be postponed, but they are expected to resume soon so be sure to check the Chicago Arts District events calendar if you find yourself with an open Friday night. Another highlight of the Pilsen art scene is the National Museum of Mexican Art, which houses works by Mexican and Mexican American artists. With more than 11,000 pieces, including textiles, folk art, prints, and photos, this free museum is home to one of the largest and most important collections of Mexican art in the country. In addition to the museum’s permanent collection, Adláteres (Minions) and the Unexpected Journey, a special exhibition by Carmen Chami which examines unintended journeys, will run through January 16, 2022.
To the uninitiated, the presence of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen might appear to be a coincidence, but it is most certainly not. Though immigrants from German and the Czech Republic were the area’s first residents, an influx of Mexican American families beginning in the early 20th century has shaped Pilsen and imbued it with the richly distinctive and authentic currency of Latino culture. Hence the reason you’ll find the best Mexican food in the city at some of Pilsen’s most classic establishments. Of particular note is the nearly six-decade old, local icon Panaderia Nuevo Leon, revered for their tasty pastries. Taqueria El Milagro is a very popular spot with some of the most authentic and tastiest Mexican fare in all of Chicago. For a more elevated taco and tequila experience, check out La Luna on the corner of 18th and Racine.
Finally, for a healthy complement of entertainment, food, and fun, the landmark Thalia Hall is a must. The multi-purpose property includes an event venue with eclectic performances (masks required), Punch Bar, a 70s inspired basement bar serving punch cocktails by the glass or the bowl, and a revitalized Dusek’s Tavern, which recently debuted a new menu.
With so many good things converging in one community, there’s little wonder why Forbes named Pilsen one of the “12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around the World.”