Some of the best restaurants in Pilsen specialize in authentic Mexican fare, including carnitas, tamales and the best tacos in Chicago. But there are plenty of other cuisines to explore in this West Side neighborhood, including expertly executed Vietnamese cooking, old-school Italian restaurants and Puerto Rican joints serving some of the finest cheap eats Chicago has to offer. The best restaurants in Pilsen span the globe and offer restaurateurs and chefs a launching pad full of creative possibilities. Next time you find yourself in this vibrant nabe, explore the best restaurants in Pilsen with our guide to our must-visit spots.
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A Pilsen restaurant we love so much that we welcomed them into Time Out Market Chicago
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 and next-door spot Cà Phê Đá in Pilsen, 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—and you can also order some of the couple's most beloved dishes from their stand at Time Out Market Chicago.
Best Pilsen restaurants
We were handed a big hunk of carnitas as soon as we entered this tiny Pilsen storefront, instantly endearing us to the place. 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.
The letters S.K.Y. stand for Seon Kyung Yuk, the wife of chef-owner Stephen Gillanders. At their 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.
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 sit on the table.
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 $2.75 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.
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.
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.
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.
We like to think of Dusek's as the chillest of all the Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago. And because they serve brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night eats, there's never a bad time to grab a table at this Pilsen mainstay. Early risers are treated to pillowy Dutch baby pancakes and decadent chilaquiles, while the evening crowd slurps oysters and noshes on chicken fried rabbit with risotto. Chase it with a pour from one of 24 beer taps or an expertly mixed cocktail.
Sometimes you just need a regular bar. Not a sceney, precious cocktail den, or a sports bar with 100 flashing TVs. We're talking about the come-as-you-are third place, where you stop to catch a baseball game over a round of beers, or grab a hearty dinner and stiff cocktails after a long-ass day. This affable Pilsen newcomer ticks most of those boxes, and raises them one impressive patio. Come for a cocktail outside, then saddle up at the sprawling indoor bar for elevated grub, like Spanish octopus with shishito peppers and from-scratch saffron capellini with smoked roe.
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.
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.
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 baked brie with wildflower honey and a vegan jackfruit flatbread. Stick around for larger, globe-trotting entrees, including fried chicken tikka, gravy-soaked poutine and sweet and spicy cured pork skewers.
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.
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.
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. At just over $2 a pop, bring a group and work through all the offerings.
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.