By Danielle Carr

Entrance of Tortillera Sabinas on 18th Street
Entrance of Tortilleria Sabinas on 18th Street

Ernesto Avina, 42, stands behind the counter at Tortilleria Sabinas, working as the prime manager and son of the owner. The factory air conditioning units hum as flour wafts through the air on a steamy Monday afternoon.

Avina hands over a bag of chips to a customer, flavored spicy, as he describes Pilsen.

“Up and coming…it’s moving more on the commercial side,” Avina said.

Tortilleria Sabinas sits on 18th Street, with the boundaries of Pilsen running 16th Street to the north, Cermak Avenue to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west.

Next door to Tortilleria Sabinas is Nuevo Leon, the go-to restaurant in Pilsen. Recommended by nearly everyone, it is run and owned by Daniel Gutierrez, 67. Favorites on the menu include taco sabinas, carne asada, and pollo ranchero.

However, with only a population of 43,000, regulars walk the street stopping to chat with Gutierrez he sits outside his restaurant, greeting him as they’ve known him for years.

Daniel Gutierrez talks with a customer outside his restaurant Nuevo Leon.
Daniel Gutierrez talks with a regular customer outside his restaurant Nuevo Leon.

Pilsen, on Chicago’s lower West Side, doesn’t only boast fresh authentic Mexican food, it also displays a sense of family within the community of restaurants.

Right next door to Tortilleria Sabinas, Nuevo Leon is supplied with fresh tortilla chips daily from the factory. Sharing a wall and partnership for 40 years, these two establishments work side by side in more ways than one.

Pilsen displays a wide variety of traditional Mexican culture seen primarily in food and shops, yet is also becoming a more commercialized neighborhood. However, when asked about the possible negative effects on the neighborhood from American restaurants, people remain optimistic for the future of Pilsen.

Local resident Erendira Gomez, age 48, sums up the evolution of Pilsen:

“Lately we have been having a lot of new restaurants coming through. It’s changing- to me. I feel great. Everything is changing.”