Get us in your inbox

Search
Rubi's at Maxwell Street Market
Photograph: Nick Murway Al Pastor Taco at Rubi's at the Maxwell Street Market

The 22 best restaurants in Pilsen

Pilsen is known for its great Mexican food, but there's more than tacos—try these spots for Italian, hand pies and more

Written by
Amy Cavanaugh
&
Morgan Olsen
Contributor
Shanti Chu
Advertising

Chicago neighborhoods continue to shift and pivot as a consequence of changing demographics and opportunities inspired by these populations. Pilsen is the quintessential Chicago neighborhood enduring shifts and transformations brought on by gentrification, while still holding on to its multifaceted immigrant roots. Venture south of the Loop and you will find yourself in an incredibly rich culinary community, where diners can find authentic fare at the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago, old-school Italian restaurants and British pub grub. There are dishes at every price point in Pilsen, ranging from pricey fine dining to some of the best cheap eats in Chicago. Make your way through the neighborhood’s offerings with our guide to the best restaurants in Pilsen.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of Pilsen, Chicago

Best Pilsen restaurants

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

Expect to be presented with a big hunk of carnitas as soon as you enter this tiny Pilsen storefront. Ordered by the pound, the juicy pork is served to you on a platter with nothing but a side of corn tortillas and a spicy salsa verde so you can concoct your own tacos. Not leaving any part of the pig to waste, the limited menu also includes fresh, warm, delicious chicharrones.

  • Restaurants
  • Lower West Side

The letters S.K.Y. stand for Seon Kyung Yuk, the wife of chef-owner Stephen Gillanders. At the couple's stunning Pilsen restaurant, the husband-and-wife duo presents classic dishes from their travels that have been livened up with unexpected ingredients and cooking techniques. Start with an order of the cornbread Madeleines, which are simultaneously crisp and butter, before digging into supple Maine lobster dumplings, addicting fried chicken with fermented hot sauce and deeply satisfying foie gras bibimbap.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

This bustling sit-down Mexican spot serves excellent tacos on fresh tortillas piled with fillings like spicy chorizo and tender steak, topped with onions and cilantro. Dress them with salsa served from squeeze bottles and spicy pickled veggies, including carrots and jalapeños, which can be fished out of a jar that sits on each table. Just try not fill up on the complimentary chips and salsa.

  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Lower West Side

We find ourselves coming back to the same two words to describe chef Thai Dang’s cooking: unapologetically authentic. Dang and his wife, Danielle, are the masterminds behind the Vietnamese kitchens HaiSous. where they present recipes that are deeply rooted in family tradition. Using fresh herbs, pristine seafood and of-the-moment produce, the Dangs invite you to join them on a sensory journey through Vietnam.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

XOCO alum chef Alfonso Sotelo's dishes are delightfully comforting with just the right amount of personality. Whether you order a big plate of tacos (which won’t break the bank at $3.25 a piece) or our favorite, the warm and hearty green chicken tamal, you’ll feel welcome at 5 Rabanitos. Expect thoughtful plating (with slivers of radishes on every dish—hence the name) and potentially a visit from Sotelo himself. This is his restaurant, and he’s happy to serve you.

  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

As much as we’d like to think we can eat a whole pie ourselves, individual hand-pies are much easier to eat when you’re dining solo. Pleasant House Pub specializes in savory handmade pies, filled with fragrant chicken balti or mushroom and kale. Order your pie with a side of fluffy mashed potatoes and vegan gravy, which can also crown your pie. This British pub also has rotating savory and vegan pies, ensuring that all diners have options. Pro-tip: Start your meal with the Welsh Rarebit, a scrumptious sourdough toast topped with their creamy beer cheese.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

Longtime Maxwell Street Market vendors Rubi's have moved into a brick and mortar space in Pilsen, serving a menu of tacos and quesadillas featuring charcoal-grilled asada and pastor. Hours are limited and you'll probably want to order head to avoid waiting in line, but the generously-stuffed tacos and quesadillas are well worth the trouble—especially if you've missed digging into Rubi's signature dishes every Sunday on Desplaines Street.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

When it comes to truth in advertising, this 18th Street counter-service spot is 50 percent on target. Pollo: check. Express: well, that’s debatable. However lackadaisical the service, it’s serious about the first part: The roasted bird is the only main available, in half or whole size, plain or adobado (the latter, spiced version is the way to go). Legs and thighs are moist, and the drier rest is easily spruced up with fresh, warm tortillas, fluffy rice, porky beans and pickled onions.

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Gastropubs
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

The premiere dining destination within the expansive Thalia Hall complex (which includes a music venue and two bars), Dusek's Tavern has changed quite a bit since it opened in 2013. The restaurant has earned (and lost) Michelin stars, cycled through chefs and introduced a succession of new menus. But the restaurant remains a reliable spot for dinner before a show, where you'll find pub grub like buffalo wings and double cheeseburgers alongside more adventurous fare like roasted beets with blueberries and pork schnitzel. You'll always find a solid list of classic cocktails, a few beers on draft and a surprisingly deep wine list. Plus, there's a late-night menu if you need to sneak down for a snack during the second encore.

Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

There are a few birrierias (spots that specialize in Mexican goat stew) sprinkled throughout the city, but all it takes is one visit to this one before you stop caring about the rest. There's just over half a dozen items here, but after trying the delectable tongue tacos, the cabeza tacos full of luscious beef cheeks, the simple yet rich goat consommé or the goat tacos bursting with sumptuous meat, you’ll find you won’t want for anything else.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The vibrant paleteria only opened its Pilsen location in mid-2015, but with several other area locations under its belt, it's already polished. The dozens of paletas available are among the city's best, with rich cream flavors like blackberry or fruity kiwi frozen with strawberries. Rounding out the menu are snacks like elotes and nachos, as well as a Doritos walking taco—a sliced open bag of nacho cheese-flavored chips, topped with avocado, pork rinds, hot sauce and other toppings. Get one, and share with five friends.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

This colorful Pilsen stalwart, open since 1994, is both a quick spot to grab coffee en route to the train and a neighborhood gathering place for low-key breakfasts or pounding away on laptops. The espresso bar serves the basics, as well as a terrific sweet Thai iced coffee, while the simple food menu includes bagels for breakfast and soups and sandwiches for lunch.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side

Pilsen has no shortage of restaurants with tasty bites paired with cocktails and a lively atmosphere—and Pilsen Yards fully embodies this trend. The reimagined concept from the team behind Monnie Burke’s features Latin street food with a global twist. You can find imaginative starters to share, like fire roasted shishito peppers with Oaxaca cheese or carrots al pastor served with a cilantro pesto and a lime crema. Maybe you’re not into sharing? Get a crispy tempura fish taco or a decadent lamb shank with guajillo braise and parsnip puree. While you’re waiting for a table, order the smoky mezcal margarita or a boozy Old-Fashioned.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

This old-school favorite opened its doors in the Heart of Italy neighborhood in 1933, which almost explains the faded travel posters and weary saloon decor. But the kitchen is far from tired, going beyond typical pastas and parmigianas to specialize in rustic dishes from Siena. Listed between the Chicken Vesuvio and the stuffed shells are a rich ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms and a spirited rendition of penne alla puttanesca. Stop at the bar for a digestif with the locals on your way out.

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

A good brewpub is equal parts stellar beer and filling bites to keep your stomach padded while you drink. Alulu checks both boxes with intriguing suds (like a blonde infused with earl grey tea and Citra hops) and delicious shareable plates, such as beer bread and a vegan jackfruit pizza. Stick around for the various sandwiches and burgers, including plant-based options that are made in-house.

  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

Gone are the days of grocery shopping while starving. At this neighborhood grocer, you can pick up Chicago-sourced products from Mott Street and Passion House Coffee while waiting for a freshly-made deli sandwich. Paulette’s offerings are not limited to lunch or dinner—a smoked salmon lox sando is perfect for breakfast or brunch. If you are gluten-free, this market also offers ready-made salads, olive tapenade and cheese for your next indoor or outdoor picnic. And for some last minute gift shopping, Paulette’s boasts gorgeous floral arrangements.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

We could tell you the tres leches cake is moist, rich and milky. But it’s enough to say that Rick Bayless name-checked Kristoffer's as his favorite, and it’s the best reason to visit this dim, quiet Pilsen café. Pair a slice of the caramel version with a cup of Intelligentsia coffee for a one-two sugar-caffeine punch.

  • Restaurants
  • Lower West Side

If you’re looking for a hearty lunch or early dinner option, Yvolina’s Tamales is the place to be. Yvolina’s takes a distinctive approach to tamales by serving them in banana leaves instead of corn husks making the tamales extra-moist. Tamale enthusiasts have a choice of red or green mole sauce (both can be made vegan) accompanied by innovative filings like kale, eggplant or quinoa, as well as more traditional fillings such as pork, steak and chicken. Each tamale is large and stuffed generously for less than $8—and you can snag one with rice and beans for just $10.50.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

This South Asian-inpsired chocolate cafe is a one-stop shop for all your dreamy dessert needs. While stopping in to buy tantalizing truffles for your loved ones (or yourself), treat yourself to decadent sipping chocolate, available in alluring flavors like Kashmiri Chili and Original Sin. Maybe you’re more of a pastry enthusiast? Try Uzma's freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel date cake or a flourless orange chocolate cake if you’re gluten free.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

This restaurant—adjacent to La Casa Del Pueblo grocery store—looks less like a restaurant than a cafeteria. But you’re not here for the atmosphere—you’re here for the incredible, tender tamales. While you’re at it, check out some other dishes, like the tortas de camaron (fried shrimp patties) or chicharrones en salsa verde (pork rinds soaked in a green chile sauce). But beware the pico de gallo—it’s green not from cilantro, but from jalapeño.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The cozy taqueria makes its own fresh tortillas, and they're a perfect vessel for conveying the flavorful fillings to your mouth. The guisado de puerco taco hashunks of tender pork bathing in a lightly spicy red chile sauce atop rice and beans; the barbacoa features a generous amount of falling-apart meat, and the rajas and onions with melted cheese is a fully satisfying vegetarian option.

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The low-key café cranks out hot, crispy, cinnamony tube treats. The churros are solid as is, but you can crank it up a notch with fillings—vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, cream cheese or the flavor of the day, which can range from guave to the eggnog-like Rompope. Pair the sweet with coffee, or go all in with milkshake.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising