By Zoe Davis
Mary Jane Gutierrez moved to Pilsen in 1960 when her family was displaced during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“In those days you couldn’t fight it. You had to take what they gave you,” said Gutierrez, 69.
Many families who lived in the neighborhood that is now University Village moved to Pilsen in the 1960s. Today, the boundaries of Pilsen are 16th street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, Halsted Street to the east and Western Avenue to the west.
What was then a mostly Czechoslovakian neighborhood became populated with many Mexican immigrants.
Pilsen, a center for Mexican culture in Chicago, is home to many authentic Mexican restaurants and taquerias. According to Pilsen residents, the most popular restaurant is Nuevo Leon, located at 1515 W 18th St.
“My family eats there a lot,” Gutierrez said.
Nuevo Leon first opened in 1962 and specializes in food from Nuevo Leon, a northern state in Mexico. It serves mostly Northern Mexico cuisine.
The restaurant has many brightly colored murals on both the inside and outside of the restaurant. Upbeat music plays from a jukebox and traditional Mexican artwork hangs on the walls. The many pieces of art are gifts from customers over the years
“We are a pillar here in Pilsen,” said Nuevo Leon owner, 42-year-old Daniel Gutierrez Jr. He is the grandson of the original owners Emeterio and Maria Gutierrez.
The menu includes a variety of dishes, from tacos to tostadas to enchiladas to soups to the famous and popular Carne Asada.
“I [usually order] chicken or some soup with rice,” said Apel Sirngua, 57, who sells popsicles and ice cream in the neighborhood.
Pilsen is located on the Lower West Side of Chicago and today is home to approximately 43,000 people. The neighborhood is becoming more diverse and many college-age people are buying apartments in the neighborhood.
Despite some cultural shifts, Mexican culture is still very prevalent throughout Pilsen, especially through restaurants like Nuevo Leon.
“That’s the best one,” said Jose Sandoval, 39, manager of Tortilleria Sabinas, a tortilla factory located next door to Nuevo Leon. “If someone famous comes to town, that’s where they go.”