Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood: Finally Poised To Take Off?

I lived just on the other side of the railroad tracks from Pilsen for about 10 years in University Village so I’ve had my eye on this Chicago neighborhood for some time as I drove through the neighborhood or actually stopped there to eat at some of my favorite restaurants or to stand in line at the post office. Actually, I’ve probably spent more time in line at the post office than I did at the restaurants.
During those 10 years I’ve definitely noticed some changes that seem to have accelerated in the last few years but I’ve always been trying to figure out if Pilsen is finally poised to actually become trendy/ hot/ a great real estate investment. I’ll get to the Pilsen real estate market next time but I thought I’d start out by doing a post on some of the softer evidence that actually supports the notion that Pilsen really is ready to take off, despite the fact that the CribChatterati wouldn’t be caught dead there and one of my colleagues, who’s been in Chicago far longer than I have, accurately notes that Pilsen has been on the verge of a rebound for like 30 years.

The Location

The location is pretty good. You are 5 minutes from every major highway in the area and pretty close to downtown Chicago. Access to public transportation is not great in the northeast section of Pilsen but you do have that pink line stop at 18th and Ashland and the Orange line stop at Archer and Halsted.

The Artists Moved In Several Years Ago

The conventional wisdom is that the artists are the first ones to recognize the next trendy neighborhood so when they move in watch out! I can’t even remember when I first noticed the art galleries popping up on Halsted but it has to be at least 5 years or more.

Now The Hipsters Have Moved In

I can’t be sure that I even know what a hipster is but I suspect that I was one when I graduated college and could have really benefited from being recognized as trendy at the time. Oh well, just more evidence that I was born like 30 years too early. But anyway, supposedly the hipsters have moved in. In the past couple of years we have noticed a hipster-like quality to some of the buyers we’ve worked with there.

The G Word Is Being Used In Reference To Pilsen

There is increasing talk of Pilsen gentrifying and it’s starting to get tense, as is often the case when people realize that the universe does not remain a constant. When the people of San Francisco’s Mission District take note of what’s going on in Pilsen it must be a real movement: White Hipsters Get Out Of Pilsen!

Pilsen Is Actually Pretty Neat

I would love to spend a day just going around and photographing all the really cool murals there but it’s hard to do that when you are trying to revolutionize the real estate industry. But you can just do a quick Google search to get a sense of the rich body of work available there: Pilsen Murals. With the exception of one really repulsive mural by the train track they are really beautiful and are mostly Latino themed.

They’ve Got Great Restaurants And Are Adding More All The Time

This is actually my favorite part of the Pilsen discussion. I’ll just give you a quick rundown of the great Pilsen restaurants, starting with ones I’ve been to:
El Nuevo Leon. This is great, authentic Mexican food. Cheap, fast service, good food. You can get a complete dinner there for $6. It’s BYOB and they ask you not to drink more than 2 beers – I think it’s 2.
Dia De Los Tamales. One of my clients turned me on to this place. Gourmet tamales. I kid you not. You have to taste them to believe them – especially the apple cobbler tamale.
Ciao Amore. My wife likes this place better than I do. She thinks the Gnocci tastes like little pillows, though I don’t know when she has tasted pillows.
Honky Tonk Barbecue. A meat lover’s delight and there’s something special about the atmosphere. The owner treats you like she’s known you her whole life.
Moody Tongue Brewing Company. I have not been there but doesn’t this place sound totally trendy? Yeah, it’s not a restaurant but it deserves mention in the same discussion.
Then they have this Thalia Hall thing going on, which again I have not been to and have never even seen but the building looks really cool in the photos and supposedly everyone is really excited about it. It’s a music venue with Dusek’s restaurant (named after the guy that originally built the hall 120 years ago) on the first floor and the Punch House cocktail bar in the basement. Check out Dusek’s menu. You don’t serve that kind of food or charge those prices unless the neighborhood is turning the corner.

Next Time

Next blog post on Pilsen I’ll look at the numbers and the real estate market. They tell a very different story.
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