Pilsen has something for everyone. Want a giant plate of carnitas with fresh, crisp pork rinds? You can get that. Prefer listening to live music while eating BBQ? Also possible. And if a Vietnamese tasting menu sounds ideal to you, that’s an option as well. Here are 16 of our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood.
It’s hard to definitively classify the food at S.K.Y., but most of it is Asian-fusion-ish, and everything is excellent. You can expect things like lobster dumplings in a buttery lemongrass broth and foie gras bibimbap - and if you can’t decide what to order, try the seven-course tasting menu for $49. 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. You really should eat here, even if you’re not already in Pilsen.
Many great Mexican spots in Chicago have some kind of connection to the city’s culinary overlord, Rick Bayless, and 5 Rabanitos is no exception. It’s owned and operated by someone who used to work for him, and it’s putting out lots of delicious, affordable food. We like the tacos, anything from the huge vegetarian menu, and especially the very, very spicy torta ahogada. Come on a weeknight for a casual (but probably loud) meal, or on the weekend with a group of friends. Just remember to BYOB.
HaiSous serves Vietnamese food in a nicely-designed modern space with really friendly service. You’re here for things like a papaya salad, crispy chicken wings, and mussels in a fantastic coconut broth. If you’re looking for punch-you-in-the-face flavor, you won’t find it here - everything is pretty mild. But the food is consistently good.
The giant display of pork rinds by the door is a good indicator of how you should be ordering at Don Pedro. You’re here for things like carnitas, pork rinds (clearly), and brain tacos - 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.
Dusek’s is in the revamped Thalia Hall, and its upscale pub food is fantastic. Order the mussels, the roast chicken, or the “Ordinary” - which is a daily special paired with a craft beer. Then go next door to Tack Room, where there’s live piano music on the weekends. (Both places are owned by the same people.)
You might remember Nuevo Leon, a classic, family-run Mexican spot that burned down a few years ago. Canton Regio is the new restaurant that same family built across the street, and it focuses mainly on grilled meat. The space looks like a hybrid between a rustic Southwestern barn and an old church - all brick and wood, with incredibly high vaulted ceilings and things like saddles and wagon wheels on the wall. Come here with a group and share things like carne asada, brochetas with shrimp or chicken served dangling from medieval-looking hooks, and fajitas. Everything is well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, and most dishes come with delicious housemade flour tortillas.
We’ve found the food at this casual Mexican spot to be inconsistent - except for the burger, which is worth driving all the way across the city for. The beef patty is perfectly cooked, and topped with guacamole, an egg, grilled onions, chihuahua cheese, chipotle mayo, and a crispy-and-somehow-not-greasy chorizo patty. You need to experience it at least once, ideally alongside a mezcal cocktail at the bar.
At first it seems like the most impressive thing about Monnie Burke’s is the great back patio that just keeps on going, like a hallway to nowhere. But this place also has some very good food. The well-rounded menu runs the gamut from burrata to a burger, and includes a pork shank that’s really fantastic. The interior feels a little like a chain restaurant (i.e. very large and a little generic/Houlihan’s-esque), but is perfect for a last-minute group dinner in the neighborhood.
Jim's Original Hot Dog
It might technically be in Little Italy now, but we’re including Jim’s Original in this guide anyway. Jim’s is credited with serving the first grilled Polish with onions and mustard, back in the 1930s. At that point it was located in the old Maxwell Street Market, which used to be in Pilsen, and that’s where Jim’s Original’s heart remains. You may have to take a quick drive out of the neighborhood to get here these days, but it’s worth it. This is a Pilsen classic.
An upbeat spot with a stage and live music throughout the week - plus some solid BBQ. Try to get here early, before the rib tips run out, and make sure you also order the brisket chili that comes with mac and cheese in it. Just don’t count on actually doing any dancing. If you eat the appropriate amount of BBQ, you’ll probably want to go home and sleep instead.
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan
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.
Cafe Jumping Bean
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 quick grab-and-go breakfast.
Kristoffer's Café & Bakery
Tres leches cake is all the rage at this place, and it absolutely lives up to the hype. This is mainly a bakery, but you can also sit down with some coffee and a sweet snack from the short menu. It’s perfect if you like cake and need to get some work done - just don’t think you’ll be the only one with that idea, since there’s wifi and plenty of available outlets.
Even though it’s only been around since 2012, PI-zen is big on being a part of the neighborhood. It’s even named after the city in the Czech Republic that Pilsen’s name came from. There’s a mix of everything on the menu, from bone marrow to tacos to some fantastic burgers. It’s a great spot for a weeknight meal or casual date.
This is an old-school neighborhood dive bar with great burgers, cheap beer, crispy tater tots, and live music on Monday nights. You can’t go wrong with a quick drink and a casual dinner here.
You might have noticed that Pilsen has a lot of great carnitas spots. Carnitas Uruapan is another one of them. It’s been around since 1975, it’s 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.