NFT Chicago University Village / Little Italy / Pilsen

University Village / Little Italy / Pilsen

Jane Addams wouldn't recognize her old 'hood today, but it retains her feisty spirit. From the nearby National Museum of Mexican Art (just across the border in Map 25) to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, institutions pay homage to diverse native groups. UIC definitely holds sway around here; the area bustles with the textbook-toting set from sunup to sundown. Farther south, a proud Mexican community rubs shoulders with working creatives around the 18th and Halsted artistic epicenter of Pilsen.

Sprawling over the city's Near West Side is the University of Illinois at Chicago. On your next trip to Little Italy, skip the marked up vino with your pasta. See more.

>Davanti Enoteca sells bottles at retail cost with a nominal corkage fee alongside their rustic cuisine. Kill the wait time at adjacent BeviAmo. In Pilsen, local artists frequent the Skylark, and people travel from far and wide for the authentic Mexican food on 18th Street.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
The Cheapskate's Guide to Chicago

By Dana Kaye
Dana Kaye sure said it straight when she declaimed: "You don’t have to be gay to enjoy all the drink specials on Halsted." But you do have to be on a budget. Chicago is no city for the thrifty, but Dana Kaye is not one for following the rules. Take heed as she stealthily discloses the secrets to getting by with no money.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Lush Wine and Spirits
Think you know what the corner liquor store is like? Think again. Lush has totally destroyed the idea that every liquor store should be bland-looking and full of crappy fluorescent lighting. This shop is outfitted in beautiful dark wood that creates a luxurious shopping experience, even if you're just buying a ten dollar bottle of cava. Most of the store is devoted to wine, and if you don't know what to buy, the super-friendly staff will jump to your assistance. You can even try certain selections at their tasting bar or go to one of their events. They also sell books to help you learn even more about the world of adult beverages. A couple of coolers at the back are devoted to a small but nice beer selection. Bonus: A lot of them can be purchased as single bottles, which is a great way to sample microbrews.

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

Sweet Maple Cafe
After the wait for a table at Sweet Maple Cafe, they could serve you a syrup-soaked shoe and it would taste amazing. Before you're seated, you and your friends will find yourselves scathingly redesigning their inefficient floor plan as you try to avoid being bruised by the incessant swinging door. You will glare at the lone man leisurely sipping his coffee at a spacious 4-top, and even consider asking him if he's going to eat his gloriously untouched biscuit. But when you finally sink your teeth into one, the clouds will miraculously part, and everyone will agree to come back some other time, hypnotized by Sweet Maple's baked goods and southern charm. Maybe it's witchcraft, or maybe it's something in the oversized strawberry glazed pancakes that droop over the edges of their plates. Come hungry. It's part of the experience.

Posted By:  Tina Fakhrid-Deen
Photo:  Tina Fakhrid-Deen

Mario's Italian Lemonade
This old school, seasonal, cash-only lemonade stand has been around since my mum was a wee-lass. The surrounding neighborhood has gone from old town Italian mafia to housing projects to UIC’s whipping boy to a posh, ultra-gentrified west loop hub. But Mario’s little rickety green, red, and white stand has remained the same and so has their fabulous Italian ice. The summertime lines can get outrageous for a little taste of frozen fruit heaven. They boast 14 icy flavors (which you can mix and match), 11 snowball flavors, scattered nuts, and my favorite—the Lupini beans. For a buck, you can get a lovely pineapple and watermelon Italian lemonade, the traditional lemon, or a late summer peach with bits of lemon rind throughout. Some flavors have fresh fruit and others are just bursting with fruity flavors. It doesn’t matter. Whether you are a poor college student, a businesswoman, or walkover from Al’s #1 Italian Beef across the street, you’ll be treated the same—like an Italian Ice junkie waiting for his next fix. Go get you some.

Posted By:  Paul Barile
Photo:  Paul Barile

As Taylor Street—Chicago’s once proud little Italy—gives way to Thai restaurants and taco stands, there is comfort in knowing the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame is not only here to stay, it is growing in national reputation for educating the next generation on Italian athletes of all sports past and present. Where else can you see Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s over-the-top sequined cape within a few feet of Joe DiMaggio’s understated woolen baseball uniforms? Perhaps you’re more of a video fan—there are a variety of in-house clips ranging from Jake LaMotta to Mary Lou Retton doing the things that made them famous. The sense of history and the weight of irony compete for your attention as the best and the brightest Italian-American athletes are showcased in all of their glory. The boxer’s robes tell stories of their own—as do the old football and hockey jerseys. You just have to listen. There are plenty of surprises and revelations that make the trip down to Taylor Street—and the hall of fame—worth the trip. (Who knew Mary Lou Retton is Italian?)

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