Start Pink Line, Pulaski stop End Pink Line, Kedzie stop
Walking time About 2.5 hours Distance 3.8 miles
1 Hollywood filmmakers could easily cast Little Village’s 26th Street as any bustling Mexican city’s shopping district. With its accordion-heavy norteño music spilling out of narrow music shops, the scent of charred taco meat wafting from food vendors’ carts and the animated Spanish chatter outside jeans and quinceañera shops, all signs point South of the Border. But first, this walk takes a detour to Brazil. Little Village is home to Tribo Afro Bahiano de Capoeira Angola Tradicional (708-217-2537), or the TABCAT school of capoeira. To get there, just walk south on Pulaski to 31st Street and turn right to drop into the Piotrowski Park Field House (4247 W 31st St). Watch students of the mesmerizing, dancelike Brazilian martial art practice, or try one of the Saturday all-ages community classes from 11am to 1pm (first-timers $5).
2 The next stop, about seven blocks east on 31st, is Chicago’s best-kept vegetarian secret, El Faro (3936 W 31st St, 773-277-1155). While half the menu caters to carnivores, the other half serves up frighteningly convincing faux-meat dishes, with chorizo, carne asada and chicken- nopal (cactus) tacos among the highlights. Try one of the freshly squeezed juices: The delicious Super Frutas is a mix of mangosteen, pomegranate, acai and about four other types of berries you’ve never heard of. If you’d rather enjoy a meal alfresco, walk past El Faro to turn left on Harding and head north to bustling 26th Street, known locally as La Veintiséis. Food vendors roam the sidewalks selling tacos, tamales and ice cream paletas, but the elaborate snack cart at 26th and Hamlin Streets is practically a permanent fixture, serving up elotes, aguas frescas and churros.
3 Just east of Hamlin, peek through the window of Bombon (3748 W 26th St, 773-277-8777) at a wonderland of towering, multilayer cakes in every imaginable color. If you’re not in the market for a decadent special-occasion piece, try one of the individual-sized treats such as the tequila lime tart.
4 Head east another block to Jacaranda Bar (3608 W 26th St, 773-521-0095). Drinks at this 43-year-old mainstay are cheap, and the house signature michelada—a spicy mix of lime juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire and beer—is a top pick.
5 Keep walking east to Dulcelandia (3300 W 26th St, 773-522-3816), your Mexican party headquarters, with its canopy of bright piñatas. Pick out your favorite oversized effigy—it has everything from the Chivas soccer mascot to the classic donkey—then scour the walls of candy dispensers for sweets to stuff inside.
6 You’ve had your beer buzz; now start working on your coffee buzz by walking one block west on 26th Street and turning right on Christiana Avenue until you hit the Café Catedral (2500 S Christiana Ave, 773-277-2233). The neighborhood hangout is ground zero for hip Mexican music, art and cultural offerings. Decorated with religious iconography, the café presents live rock-en-español acts from as near as down the street and as far as Santiago, Chile.
7 Next door to the café is the gallery Villarte (3348-A W 25th St, 312-972-3808, myspace.com/littlevillageartsfest), which also serves as the headquarters for Little Village Arts Fest. The event, which takes place October 3 and 4, showcases the work of artists and crafters living in, working in or inspired by the neighborhood.
Your Mexican sojourn is just about over: Walk three blocks east to Kedzie and turn left to get back to the Pink Line’s Kedzie stop.
GO THE EXTRA MILE Stick around for the big weekend dance parties that go down at Volkan (2501 S Kedzie Ave, 773-247-2400). The cavernous club attracts partygoers with reggaeton, merengue and Latino hip-hop acts on Saturdays, while Sundays bring in more traditional acts. But cab it home: The stretch between the club and the Kedzie Pink Line gets dicey after dark.