En español | With Latinos comprising more than 26 percent of the population—compared to 15 percent nationally—the Windy City’s Hispanic communities are thriving. Chicago has the third largest metropolitan concentration of Latinos in the nation, after New York and Los Angeles. And that vibrant diversity is reflected around the city. Film festivals, Latino restaurants, nightclubs, and colmados (small neighborhood grocery stores) have multiplied during the last two decades.
Try a taste—literally and figuratively—of the culture by visiting three Chicago neighborhoods that stand out as cultural beacons.
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The Color of Culture: Pilsen
For a heaping helping of Mexican culture, head a few blocks southwest of the Loop to Pilsen, where the streets are less congested and more colorful. Murals depicting family scenes, Mexican heroes, and Aztec deities line the blocks on and off 18th Street, the neighborhood’s main artery. The painted scenes, says Cesar Sanchez, tour coordinator for the Chicago Office of Tourism, “show how strong the culture is in that neighborhood.”
Indoors, masterpieces by artists from both sides of the border fill the National Museum of Mexican Art. Visit the museum’s Tienda Tzintzuntzan and peruse art-related books, posters, and other keepsakes.
Art and food collide at the storefront mural adorning the entrance to the family-owned Nuevo León Restaurant, a Pilsen staple. You’ll find carne asada, bistec a la mexicana, and menudo. For a dose of mariachi music with your meal, visit Mi Tierra, a restaurant that features live music on weekends.
Crossing a Border: Little Village
When you pass under the archway clock that marks the entrance to La Villita (or Little Village, in English), you cross more than just 26th Street—you cross a border. “It’s like being in Mexico City,” says Sanchez.
Vendors hawking traditional Mexican drinks, elotes (roasted corn), and other treats weave through the traffic-filled street, where more than 1,000 businesses have set up shop. From boutiques with enough hats, vests, and boots to outfit Los Tigres del Norte to music shops and eateries, “whatever you need from Mexico, you can find,” Sanchez says.
There’s even a spot where you can eat and pray—Taqueria El Milagro. Grilled steak tacos and tamales are sold beside an altar in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe. For dessert, stop in one of dozens of panaderías offering rows of pan dulce, or step into Dulcelandia and take in the rainbow of 800 varieties of candies and piñatas.
The Spirit of Puerto Rico: Humboldt Park
Although Puerto Rico lies more than 2,000 miles away, its spirit lives on in Humboldt Park’s Paseo Boricua. “It’s been developed like a Puerto Rican version of Chinatown,” says Xavier Nogueras, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Illinois. The Boricua community congregates in the eight-block strip on Division Street, flanked by two 45-ton steel Puerto Rican flags.
For breakfast, Nellie’s serves favorites like coconut oatmeal, scrambled eggs with sweet plantains (maduros), and salchichón. Hike through the 207-acre Humboldt Park, the neighborhood’s centerpiece and namesake. For lunch, head over to Borinquen for a made-in-Chicago delicacy, the jibarito: flattened fried green plantains encasing a filling of steak, pork, or chicken and topped with cheese.
Get a treat for your ears at Lily’s Record Shop, promoted as “the oldest Latino record store in the city.” If the beat gets you in the dancing mood, step on over to Coco’s, a Nuevo Latino restaurant that morphs into a salsa club on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sure, says Nogueras, some people move to the suburbs, but while individual Latinos may come and go, the soul of their cultures lives on in the street.
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