Mexican culture runs strong and deep in Chicago and one of the best places to experience Mexican culture and cuisine is with a walk Mexican specialties including tamales, tacos, carnitas, churros, pastries and so much more just on 18th Street.through the Pilsen neighborhood. There are a few options to get here by mass transit, but we recommend using this link for directions to the start of this tour. If you stop in at every location, this tour should take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours to complete.
Click the map to enlarge.
Stop #1 – Don Pedro Carnitas [1113 W 18th Street]. Taste how pork carnitas are done and done well. A palace of all things porcine, this neighborhood favorite serves platters pile
d high with teaming carnitas made from succulent pork chunks that have been slow-simmered then braised. Add crispy chicharrones and this is pig-lovers' heaven. The minute you step in, you're greeted with warm smiles and delicious smells of pork carnitas. We enjoyed quite a feast early on including chicharrone (crispy fried pork skin), ensalada de nopalitos (cactus salad), deep fried tacos, tomato based goat stew, and lots of pork carnitas stuffed into corn tortillas to make tacos.
Stop #2 - Birrieria Reyes de Octolan [1322 West 18th Street.] The next stop is perfect for the more adventurous. Birrerias are traditionally Mexican eateries that specializes in goat dishes. Birrerias Reyes de Ocotlan is a popular local spot for delicious goat stew and goat tacos. Places specializing in traditional goat stew are rare in Chicago, and few are as focused. With only about a half dozen selections, this unassuming spot is clearly the work of a specialist. One bite of the savory tacos and you'll agree with the sign by the door proclaiming this the mejor birria del mundo.
Stop #3 –Don Churro [1626 S Blue Island Ave] What would a Mexican neighborhood food tour be without some churros?! Don Churro offers up a nice variety of filled churros including strawberry, chocolate, caramel, bavarian cream and plain/hollow ones.
Stop #4 - Walk back down on 18th Street heading east and around the corner of Blue Island and 18th street is La Casa del Pueblo [1810 S Blue Island Ave]. While you walk, take a look at the various art painted along walls, windows, sides of buildings, etc. It’s an eclectic section of 18th street filled with color and artistry that shouldn’t be missed! Once at the corner of Blue Island and18th street, turn right and there you’ll hit a favorite market of Chef Rick Bayless. Pop into La Casa del Pueblo to see some interesting and authentic ingredients. This popular neighborhood supermercado features hard-to-find fresh produce like cactus leaves and plantains, an extensive selection of dried chilies and an intriguing butcher case with items like cow's hooves and cesina.
Stop #5 – Just next door to the supermercado is their taqueria. The La Casa del Pueblo Taqueria [1834 S Blue Island Ave] offers up wonderful tamales for just $1 each! At that price, you can try quite a few of their popular fillings such as chicken, beef, pork, poblano pepper and cheese, bean, etc. or even bring some home for a quick and easy meal!
Traditional Mexican fare is always good. But what about thinking outside the box and trying some tamales in non-traditional ways? This is a great spot to try some unique and interesting tamales, compared to the traditional ones found at the last stop. Here, you can find fillings such as Chicago Beef, Coconut Curry, Buffalo Chicken and even some dessert tamales such as Apple Cobbler and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Stop #6 – Kristoffer’s Café [1733 S. Halsted]. End the tour on a sweet note with some amazing Mexican desserts. Be sure to save room! Here, they have amazing tres leches cake in a variety of flavors as well as flan you don’t want to miss.