On May 20th and 27th, Amanda, our Founder and Executive Director, will lead our latest “Detour” special event: the Changes and Spaces in Pilsen Food Tour. Back in January, Amanda lead the rest of the Chicago Detours team on a early preview version of the Pilsen tour. We are offering this very limited run on two dates, with group size limited at 14 guests. Here you can preview three big things that our tour guests will get to experience, and decide on if you should book some of the few tickets available.
#1. OMG THE FOOD
This was always going to be #1 for me. It couldn’t not be. I love Mexican food. Loooooooooove Mexican food. To call it the default cuisine in the Bean household is a monumental understatement. So, yeah, the food on the new Pilsen Tour is absolutely killer. In fact, the tour makes three different food stops, which left me both incredibly full and desirous for so much more.
The biggest stop is at Canton Regio. This restaurant opened up just over a year ago, but its roots are much older. Canton Regio is owned and operated by the same family that ran the famous Nuevo Leon restaurant for 53 years. Nuevo Leon, of course, was gutted by a fire in late 2015. But Canton Regio, which is a Mexican steakhouse, has leapt into that breach. Their mesquite-grilled meats are mouth-wateringly succulent and have a flavor that is distinctly south of the border. The fire-grilled panela cheese is honestly beyond my descriptive capabilities. All the food there was heavenly.
The tour also stops for paletas, so guests can enjoy a tasy treat while strolling. The walk finishes up at 5 Rabanitos. This restaurant, across the street from Harrison Park, was founded by former employees of Rick Bayless’s Frontera. Their plantains covered with ancho chile and pecans have haunted my dreams for months. [Alex leaves to go get a snack so he can focus on writing again.]
#2. Exploring Gentrification on Our Pilsen Tour
The topic of gentrification has been on our mind quite a bit in recent months with all the development around the city. and its unavoidable down in Pilsen. On the tour, it’s plain to see that Pilsen is being changed by gentrification in Chicago. New buildings are drawing in transplanted residents from pricier neighborhoods. The prospect of renting to a Yuppie leads to higher prices for everything from produce to housing. Soon enough longtime residents are priced out of their homes and Pilsen is no longer what it once was.
Some amount of social change like this is inevitable, of course. Pilsen itself is an example of that, since it was originally a neighborhood of Czech immigrants before Mexican emigrants started moving in about 50 years ago. But gentrification is a deeply contentious and emotional process. Tour guests won’t be thrust into such an emotional state, of course, but Amanda’s focused this tour on where we can see changes happening and what they mean. In fact, Pilsen is changing so fast that this tour might be radically different if we offer it in just a year or two.
#3. Stunning Art and Architecture
Most of the Pilsen tour consists of a walk down 18th Street, which is the historic heart of the neighborhood. As such, fascinating and marvelous bits of art and architecture pepper the mile-long route. Many of the massive structures in Pilsen date back to its origins as a Czech neighborhood. Near the start of the tour, the massive brick structure of Thalia Hall, which was built as a social hall and opera house, looks across 18th at the Baroque brick facade of St. Procopius Catholic Church. Both have evolved with the neighborhood around them, but their twined turn-of-the-20th-Century structures feel like a time capsule of a bygone neighborhood.
Art of all kinds is present along the entire route. Murals, street art, and graffiti in eye-popping colors bedeck buildings left and right. My eye was particularly drawn to the political and ethnic murals, which conveyed the heritage and pride of the Mexican community in Pilsen. Heck, even the street lamps have the Mexican eagle on them! At one point, Amanda brings the tour to a halt in front of a building covered with murals of iconic Latino leaders and rebels. It’s a stirring sight. Perhaps the most unique artwork is a mishmash of random kitschy knickknacks in a storefront window. It’s a supremely fun location, so I won’t spoil any more here.
Overall, the Changes and Spaces in Pilsen Food Tour is exactly what you should be expecting from Chicago Detours at this point: a five-star experience. I had a great time going on it a few months ago and if I wasn’t leading so many tours in our busy summer season, I’d be back down there again for its runs on May 20th and 27th. Spots are indeed filling up (as I fill up my belly at the thought of it).
–Alex Bean, Tour Guide and Content Manager