By Jami Haasl
Ernesto Avina, 42, works at Tortillera Sabinas on 18th Street. The smell of flour is overwhelming in this small tortilla factory in Pilsen. As prime manager and son of the owner, Avina was born into the business and has been working here for 10 years.
Pilsen is located on the lower West Side of Chicago and has a population of roughly 43,000. The predominantly Mexican neighborhood runs from 16th Street to Cermak Road and Halsted Street to Western Avenue.
“Pilsen is an up-and-coming neighborhood,” Avina said.
Tortillera Sabinas provides tortilla chips to local restaurants, cafes, and residents of the area. One of the best restaurants in town, according to Avina, is Nuevo Leon, conveniently located next door.
Nuevo Leon purchases tortilla chips from Tortillera Sabinas. Avina speaks of the close relationship the two businesses have. Avina recommends the tacos sabinas.
Daniele Gutierrez, 67, is the owner of Nuevo Leon. Gutierrez sits outside his restaurant greeting regulars with a hug and hello as they walk in for lunch. Nuevo Leon is a great place to go for traditional, flavorful Mexican cuisine at any time of the day.
Nuevo Leon serves desserts but Gutierrez mentions the delicate pastries and cakes at Bombon on the corner of 18th Street and Ashland Avenue. The restaurant owners of Pilsen seem to have close ties and thrive off each other making the environment friendly and welcoming.
Walking into to Bombon tourists can taste the buttercream and vanilla essence in the air. Locals can purchase customizable cakes or choose from popular flavors such as tres leche, a moist milk infused vanilla cake.
Nieves Vega, 76, is waiting for her bus on Ashland Avenue. Vega has been a resident of Pilsen for 50 years, and enjoys watching the growth and change of the town such as improved and commercialized restaurants/businesses.
Her family follows traditional Mexican cooking. Her favorite dish is enchiladas, a baked tortilla dish typically filled with meat and topped with chili sauce. Vega also recommends Nuevo Leon and says on Saturday the restaurant overflows with locals and tourists.
Just like Vega, Erendira Gomez, 49, cooks classic Mexican dishes. A family favorite is arroz con gandules (rice with Spanish beans) as well as many chicken dishes. Although Pilsen is known for its superb Mexican food, Gomez is glad to see change as Pilsen adapts to American food and cooking.
“Lately we have been having a lot of new restaurants coming through,” Gomez said. “It’s changing. To me I feel great. Everything is changing for the better.”
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