The Run Down

This guide takes us to Chicago’s Southwest side. We’ll be exploring Little Village, or La Villita as the locals know it. Considered to be one of the city’s largest and most cherished Mexican-American communities, we’ll be getting a small taste of some of the local favorites, along with a peek into a newer establishment that is proud to call this neighborhood home. Here are the details.

1. Start @ Little Village Arch

2. Breakfast @ La Cathedral Cafe & Restaurant

3. Art Walk @ Day of the Dead Mural

4. Art Walk @ Art by Jay Jasso

5. Art Walk @ Mural by Mr. Pintamuro

4. Drinks @ Osito's Tap

5. Manteconchas @ El Nopal Bakery

1. Little Village Arch

So before we head to breakfast, our adventure begins at the historic Little Village Arch. Proudly donning the Mexican flag on either side, the arch resembles similar structures to the entrances of many communities or pueblos in Mexico. With a large sign reading “Bienvenidos a Little Village” across the grand terracotta style landmark, it is a symbol that welcomes all visitors to the community and for the locals welcomes them home.

The sights and sounds are nothing short of exciting on this bustling Saturday morning. Even at 9 a.m. music is playing, street vendors are already set up, and you can smell the fresh sweet bread from all the local panaderías fresh out of their kitchens. As tempting as it is to make a stop at each of these local bakeries for a pre-breakfast snack, we have a big afternoon ahead so we’ll plan to save one of these stops for last.

2. La Cathedral Cafe & Restaurant

We take about a 10 minute walk to our next destination. La Catedral Cafe and Restaurant is a neighborhood favorite that serves up a bountiful Mexican style breakfast and brunch. Nestled deep in the residential area of the neighborhood, you might mistake this restaurant for just another house. If you don’t quite catch the subtle “open” neon sign in the window, the line of people waiting on the side of the building means you’ve arrived at the right spot!

We went pretty early in the morning and should note that between accommodating patrons during COVID guidelines, on top of just being a regular spot for locals, expect to buffer about a half an hour or so to sit down, but if you’re more in a hurry, they do offer to-go options, particularly during these days.

Now let’s talk food. They’ve got a wide range of traditional and non-traditional menu items. Pictured above is a massive plate of chicken in salsa verde and spicy chorizo chilaquiles.

Accompanying all that is the biggest, sweetest cup of Cafe de Olla around Chicago. It’s not necessarily a common coffee option in many cafes. It’s Mexican ground coffee, cinnamon, and raw dark sugar called “piloncillo” prepared in a clay pot. Top everything off with strawberry and banana flapjacks, and you got yourself a proper breakfast.

3. Day of the Dead Mural

After a filling breakfast like that, we need some time to walk it off before our next stop. As we continue to explore up and down the commercial corridor known as 26th Street, there’s no shortage of culture come to life, along with street vendors and artists to fulfill the curious eye.

We’re greeted left and right with colorful and larger than life murals like this one, by Elizabeth “Bel” Reyes, paying tribute to Día de los Muertos hugging the Nuevo León restaurant. As beautiful as it might be in pictures, it’s truly one you need to see in person.

4. Art by Jay Jasso

5. Mural by Mr. Pintamuro

4. Osito’s Tap

After soaking in the local art, we head towards the end of the block where we find ourselves at our third stop of the afternoon.  On the main 26th street thoroughfare, you’ll find Moreno’s Liquor Store, a family owned business that dates back to the late 70s.

But tucked away behind their store is Osito’s Tap, a “speakeasy” style bar that the family opened up in 2019. That’s the next move.

Named after the beloved family mascot, Osito’s is very dog-friendly, and hosts an array of events ranging from mezcal tastings to more recently celebrating Oktoberfest (socially distant, of course).

To make the most out of a warm day, we opted to sit on their patio that’s on a quieter side street.

While we enjoyed a couple of their cool and refreshing craft cocktails, it’s also worth mentioning they have their own  brunch and appetizer menu should you find yourself needing to snack on some chips and salsa – or let’s be honest, some more chilaquiles.

As the weather cools down, they’ve got a pretty good outdoor setup in their back alley way.  It’s covered with heat lamps keeping you warm.

Here’s a shot of the entrance into Osito’s Tap in pre-covid times. You’d walk through Moreno’s Liquour until you’d get to this entrance in the back of the store.

After you pass through that entrance, it would open up to this big open bar. Here’s to hoping we can get back to these good times eventually.

 

5. El Nopal Bakery

As promised from the start of our tour, our last and final stop is a visit to El Nopal Bakery, conveniently located just a few steps away from Osito’s Tap.

It is a Little Village institution, serving up the neighborhood with tasty treats and sweets since the 70’s! Though they closed back in 2015, new ownership honors the recipes from the original family owned business under the same name, while also adding their personal touch on new creations.

It’s hard to stop at ordering just a single sweet bread, so get a few manteconchas (concha muffins) for the road.

We grabbed a box of their well known and much adoredhojarascas,their traditional Mexican shortbread heart shaped cookies. These are typically sold by the dozens around Christmas time, but who’s to say you can’t get a jump start to the season.