Buen Provecho! Pilsen 2011

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September 16th marks the Mexican Independence day from Spain. I had no idea of that fact, nor did I have any idea what I would be doing on the 15th, until I awoke to a text from a friend suggesting we check out Buen Provecho! Pilsen that night. The walking food tour runs the gamut of restaurants in Pilsen and although the neighborhood is currently known for its Mexican culture and cuisine, there was plenty of variety consumed throughout the night.

The $30 ticket to the four-hour food fest included a sampling from 30 restaurants. Ostensibly, this means only a dollar a restaurant if you can get to all of them. Although the restaurants are centered along 18th St. between Morgan and Wood, there were definitely a few that were more out of the way. The ticket itself contains a map, as well as what each restaurant has to offer. Thus, Nightwood was the first destination of choice, as not only have I wanted to dine there for a while, but it’s comparatively out of the way location was a good one to knock off the list. The fine-dining anomaly in the neighborhood, surrounded by the numerous art galleries lining South Halsted offered up a jerk snapper, in a pâté form, on top of a piece of bruschetta topped with a mango salsa. Certainly the most unique plate of the evening and absolutely delicious. Their menus are hand-written each day as they are consistently changing and they are committed to the local and sustainable trend many restaurants of its kind have embraced.

We continued off the beaten path towards the surrounded-by-nothingness May St. Café on Cermak. It felt appropriate that the restaurant boasts a mashup menu from various Latin cultures, as we sipped an Argentine Malbec and discussed Mexican history with the Puerto Rican head chef Mario Santiago. The dish of the evening was a cinnamon chipotle chicken fajita, heavier on the chipotle than the cinnamon, but still good. After getting the obligatory out-of-the-way places done with (skipped Laurence Fisheries: I’ve had popcorn shrimp before; although I do regret not noticing La Taberna was serving paella a bit further north on Halsted), we headed to the main culinary artery of Pilsen up to 18th St.

Next up was Cuernevaca, not only to get some more traditional Mexican affair of chicken mole tacos, but for the $5 jumbo margaritas the restaurant was kind enough to throw into Styrofoam cups for us to enjoy while walking to other dining destinations. The next of which was Honkey Tonk BBQ across the street, which although they advertised a pulled pork slider, it was a single rib instead. But you didn’t see me complaining as I slathered it in their BBQ sauce and headed out to take the free shuttle bus to the next locale. Or at least I tried to take the shuttle. Waited a considerable time for it, especially for someone already accustomed to life with Bus Tracker. Either way, we decided it wasn’t worth the wait and the walk allowed for more random sampling.

The dancing goat on the sign at Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan should give you an idea of their speciality. Consumed in taco form and they were offering free horchata as well. Although it seems like a typical little Mexican restaurant, it does get points from Rick Bayless as his favorite fast food joint (for whatever that’s worth). As the available hours of sampling were winding down, we quickly moved ahead. We continued west, and made a quick stop at Mundial Cochina Mestiza for the $5 Horchatini’s they were offering. Quick math lesson: horchata + rum = delicious. We passed on the party blasting at Nuevo Leon toward El Mesquite Grill for the taquitos de cabeza. For those forgetting their high school Spanish, that is ‘head tacos.’ The house specialty of the restaurant is apparently super fatty and didn’t reach that high on the taste scale.

As any trip to Pilsen requires, we knew the end of the night would wrap up at Simone’s. The mile-stretch of 18th back to Morgan was alive with people wrapping up their own tours. Surprisingly, by the time we got to Simone’s we realized neither of us were hungry any more, even for a bite of a black bean & banana empanada (although naturally, still room for cocktails). Although our personal tour included lots of Latin mealtime items, there were plenty of options for paletas, cookies, hot chocolate, and an unpredictable high number of pizza places. Overall, it was a great deal if you have the time, concentration, and perspiration to hit up all the spots. No reason to wait until next year’s Mexican Independence though. Here’s a list of most of the restaurants and what they were offering. Feel free to take your own tour. You never know what type of face / tongue / brain tacos are out there waiting for you.

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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