Nuevo Leon Mexican Restaurant

Walk around this neighborhood and you'll see landmark murals, distinctive Pilsen flair, vintage shops and modern treasures. You won't forget 18th Street, the heart of Pilsen, either. This west side neighborhood boasts culinary institutions like Nuevo Leon (pictured), Kristoffer's Bakery and Nightwood. But don't sleep on some of the area's lesser known, but comprably delicious hidden gems.

La Catrina Cafe (1011 W. 18th St.)

This cozy and colorful café opened two months ago, but La Catrina Cafe has already been crowned winner of the annual Mole de Mayo cook-off for its delectable Tortas de Mole. This charming spot is more than meets the eye, offering gluten-free options, quick bites, healthy, and vegetarian seasonal dishes, as well as organic loose leaf and beautiful flowering teas brewed to delicate perfection.

Catrina's Chocolate Azteca (1011 W. 18th St.)

For a jolt of energy and exotic spice try Catrina's Chocolate Azteca, Aztec chocolate, an alluring and intriguing shot of strong bittersweet chocolate and vanilla. This family owned café was inspired by Jose Guadalupe Posada's iconic etching Calavera Catrina, and is frequented by Pilsen's notable artists. During my visit, I ran into Marcos Raya, a regular and one of Chicago's most distinguished surrealist painters enjoying tea and a pastry.

Café Jumping Bean Coffee House and Gallery (1439 W. 18th St.)

Café Jumping Bean Coffee House and Gallery is the hub for writers, artists and conversation. Jumping Bean offers a full espresso bar and pastries, classic sandwiches, soups and salads and don't be surprised if your bagel or turkey sandwich comes with a side of pickled carrots and jalapeño, 18th Street style. Try a licuado or milk shake, Jumping Bean offers strawberry, banana, oatmeal, and mango. At the corner of 18th Street and Bishop Ave. since 1994.

Bombón (1530 W. 18th St.)

For sweet take-aways stop by Bombón, a traditional bakery with a modern twist. Their tres leches and strawberry tres leches individual cakes, hailed as creamy, light and not too sweet, like heavenly clouds. But it is best to try one yourself. Bombón uses fresh, all-natural ingredients and 100% butter in all their pastries. Their polvorones de nuez and galletas de canela, pecan and cinnamon butter cookies, are among the most popular items in the bakery. Bombón is another winner. 1457 W. 18th Street.

Pl-zen (1519 W. 18th St.)

Pl-zen, is a casual, Latin influenced gastropub, 1519 W. 18th Street. Their eclectic menu boasts interesting and sophisticated modern flavors. Start off with a mind-opening cocktail, 18th Mule, made with mezcal, agave nectar, habanero extract - a smoky, sweet and spicy combination. The bone marrow is an appetizer for the adventurous, roasted and topped with short rib marmalade, fresh herbs and garlic toast. The towering taste of Pl-zen's tostadas is a highly recommended and popular vegetarian entree. Crispy chipotle and jalapeño flour tortillas, sautéed winter vegetables topped with avocado, tomatillo sauce and lime sour cream. Pair your meal with a 5 Rabbit Huitzi midwinter ale, brewed with hibiscus flowers, ginger, Thai palm sugar, and local Chicago honey.

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