How to Explore Public Art in Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood
The aroma of meat and maize wafts over 18th street in Pilsen. Bright murals splashed across buildings tell the story of the neighborhood's Mexican American heritage. On Chicago's Lower West Side, Pilsen thrums with an eclectic mix of art galleries, bodegas, resale shops, family-owned restaurants and—more recently—hipster breweries and upscale eateries.
Luis Tubens, wearing a jaunty hat and gesturing enthusiastically, is taking a group of visitors on a mural tour. A local resident, poet and former arts educator, Tubens is also cofounder of Pilsen Public Art Tours. He highlights several of the neighborhood's 200 murals, pointing out oft-missed details. One mural covers a three-story house like wrapping paper; a giant arm reaches toward a painted red sky. While many of the murals are commissioned by businesses, Tubens says, this artist, Hector Duarte, lives and works in the building. The house's pitched roof and narrow footprint reveals the architectural preferences of the working-class Eastern European immigrants who settled Pilsen in the 1870s.
History and energy are alive here, and it's seen everywhere, in the chatty street vendors and the man chopping meat at Carnitas Uruapan, serving pork that's hot and golden—a work of art in its own right.
What to Do in Pilsen
Here's how Luis Tubens recommends spending time in Pilsen.
Where to Eat
The tacos from Taqueria El Milagro are always fresh because it's also a tortilla factory. The Jibarito Stop is a delicious Puerto Rican restaurant known for jibaritos—picture a steak sandwich with fried plantains instead of bread. For classic hot dogs, you have to go to Memo's, which has been in the neighborhood for generations. People love Carnitas Uruapan for their famous shredded pork. And don't forget a concha from Panaderia Nuevo Leon bakery.
Where to Drink
Caminos de Michoacan is a traditional Mexican bar with a pool table and no bougie flair. The Giant Penny Whistle is a newer place with a younger crowd; DJs play a mix of funk, soul, house and Latin music. Cafe Jumping Bean is the classic spot for coffee.
Where to Shop
For throwback clothing items, check out Pilsen Vintage. Their selection is amazing. Tonantzin is named after the Aztec Mother Goddess, and it's a little artisan gift shop with funky hours. There's also Mestiza, which has products from local artists and Mexico.
Where to Find Art
The always-free National Museum of Mexican Art offers performances, concerts and an annual Day of the Dead exhibition. There are outdoor festivals in Pilsen, like the Mole de Mayo and Fiesta del Sol. And, of course, you should take a guided tour of Pilsen's murals (with Tubens!) through Pilsen Public Art Tours.
Meet Luis Tubens
As cofounder of Pilsen Public Art Tours, Luis Tubens has given thousands of tours of the vibrant murals in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. For 10 years, he worked as an art educator at the National Museum of Mexican Art. He also studied under legendary muralist José Guerrero.