Three Things to Look Forward to On Our New Pilsen Tour

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.

Grilled chicken and peppers at Canton Regio pilsen tour food
The food on the Pilsen tour is not to be missed. Photo by Pawel Skrabacz

#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.

aztec mexican mural street art pilsen tour
The street art and murals along the Pilsen Tour route are eye-popping. Photo by Alex Bean

#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

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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