Saturday, June 27, 2009

Neighborhood Taste Tour: Pilsen

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It's quite a busy day here in Chicago with the Taste of Chicago in full swing... especially with the free Counting Crows concert right outside:

A bird's eye view of The Taste of Chicago from my kitchen at 3pm
A bird's eye view of The Taste of Chicago
from my kitchen at 6pm

The Taste of Chicago is certainly a great way to try out some dishes from all sorts of vendors, but I prefer taking a culinary adventure of my own with my monthly Neighborhood Taste Tours.


Today friends and I ventured out to the neighborhood of Pilsen, which is located southwest of Chicago's loop. Here you'll find an area rich in Mexican culture and food... which offers a true Taste of Chicago.

Carnitas Don Pedro - 1113 W 18th Street
A palace of all things porcine, this neighborhood favorite serves platters piled high with steaming carnitas made from succulent pork chunks that have been slow-simmered then braised. Add crispy chicharrones and this is pig-lovers' heaven.

We started our tour with a visit to Carnitas Don Pedro. The minute you step in, you're greeted with warm smiles and delicious smells of pork carnitas. We enjoyed quite a feast early on including...



Chicharrone
Crispy fried pork skin


Ensalada de Nopalitos
Cactus Salad


Crispy Fried Beef Quesadilla


Tomato Based Goat Stew


Pork Carnitas
which we all stuffed into corn tortillas to make tacos!


GalerĂ­a del Pastel - 1238 W 18th Street
After a fire burned out the Bombon Bakery flagship down the street last summer, pastry chef Laura Cid-Perea relocated to this bakery. Thankfully, her cakes remain as heavenly as ever, especially the tres leches and the individual-sized confections. Our favorite sugar rush comes from the pretty Mini Luisito, a vanilla cake spiked with mango and white chocolate.

Next up, we satisfied our sweet tooth at Galeria del Pastel (aka Bombon). This little Mexican bakery had wonderful cakes and tres leches cake. We bought a few small cakes to share including...


Mini Luisito
Vanilla cake spiked with mango & white chocolate


Chocolate cake spiked with raspberries & cheesecake filling


Caramel Tres Leches
three milk cake with caramel



Eggnog Tres Leches & Flan
(unpictured)






Birrieria Reyes de Octolan - 1322 West 18th Street
Places specializing in traditional goat stew are rare in Chicago, and few are as focused. With only about a half dozen selections, this unassuming spot is clearly the work of a specialist. One bite of the savory tacos and you'll agree with the sign by the door proclaiming this the mejor birria del mundo.

The next stop on our tour was perfect for the more adventurous. Birrerias are traditionally Mexican eateries that specializes in goat dishes. Birrerias Reyes de Ocotlan is a popular local spot for delicious goat stew and goat tacos. Here's a shot of a portion of their menu:

Many of us took the time to rest at this point, but a good handful were up to ordering a few things including:



Goat Tacos


Goat Stew


Mr. Churro - 1626 S Blue Island Ave
The best of the genre are surprisingly from the local wholesaler. Fresh, fried, sweet pastries filled with chocolate, strawberry or vanilla cream. Need I say more? OK, flaky sugared elephant ears too.




What would a Mexican neighborhood food tour be without some churros?! We stopped into Mr. Churros (aka Don Churro) and got a sneak peak of how they get their delicious fillings inside! just like most bakeries that serve up filled doughnuts, churros are filled using the same equipment. Filling is shot into a hollow churro and then gently coated with cinnamon sugar.


Mr. Churro offers up a nice variety of filled churros including strawberry, chocolate, caramel, bavarian cream and plain/hollow ones.


I don't believe I've ever seen so many churros at one time!

Mmmm.... fresh churros!



Take Me Out - 1502 W 18th Street
Amidst all the latin fare in the Pilsen neighborhood, this place specializes in Korean chicken wings! These wings are unlike no other and you'll be able to try them on our tour!

Well, we've been hitting up some great places with a lot of Mexican culture behind them. Why not throw in something different in the mix? Say... something like Korean or Chinese? That's right, in the heart of Pilsen is a great Korean/Chinese restaurant that shouldn't be missed. We hit up Take Me Out Chinese which is known for their amazing Korean "lollipop" chicken wings. These wings are sweet with a bit of heat and served up with fluffy steamed white rice...



Tortilleria Sabinas
- 1509 W 18th Street



Nearing the end of our tour, we went across the street to Tortilleria Sabinas. They make fresh tortillas during the week and the public is welcome to stop by and purchase fresh tortillas, tortilla chips and even masa. Today, they had no production going on, but we were able to take some pics of the factory and the many boxes of tortillas they have ready to ship out to local stores:

La Casa del Pueblo - 1810 S Blue Island Ave
This popular neighborhood supermercado features hard-to-find fresh produce like cactus leaves and plantains, an extensive selection of dried chilies and an intriguing butcher case with items like cow's hooves and cesina.

The last stop on our tour was a local Mexican market. Here we had fun checking out some interesting food finds and making some random purchases. Did you know famous and local chef Rick Bayless shops here on occassion?! Check out some of the things we found...



Extra Giant Marshmallows....really?!



Life sized cactus leaves!

The tour was a wonderful way to spend the day! While many folks were getting their fill at the "official" Taste of Chicago, I'm glad that my friends and I got a chance to meet some wonderful locals who gave us a true taste of Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood. If you ever get a chance, please visit the above establishments... you won't be disappointed!

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