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The Grid: Little Village’s ‘second Magnificent Mile’ captures heart of Mexico

Video by Brian Rich

Little Village, often called “Mexico of the Midwest,” has a 2-mile stretch on 26th Street that has its own nickname: the “second Magnificent Mile.” The highest grossing shopping and tax revenue hub in the city after Michigan Avenue, it’s lined with independent storefronts and colorful restaurants that awaken and envelop the senses.

Cremeria Santa Maria, 3234 W 26th St.

This specialty grocery may be small but its selection is grandiose with fresh cheeses, cultured milks and cremas. Homemade chorizos, tamales, salsas and mole can be purchased by weight.

La Catedral Cafe, 2500 S. Christiana

Inspired by a cathedral in Guadalajara, Chef/Owner Ambrocio Gonzalez’s restaurant has a cult following. Many patrons, who come out in full force during weekend brunch hours, swear by the cafe de la olla — Mexican coffee with cinnamon and brown sugar — and the nearly dozen versions of chilaquiles.

Don Pepe, 3616 W. 26th St.

Don Pepe specializes in torta ahogada, a Mexican sandwich made with crisp roast pork, then drowned in a spicy chile de árbol sauce. Another favorite is carne en su jugo — steak soup with beans, bacon, cilantro, onions, tomato, radish and grilled onion.

El Faro, 3936 W. 31st St.

A big portion of the menu at this over 30-year-old restaurant is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. There’s also a natural juice bar. My favorite is the nopalitos guisados — diced cactus seasoned with dry pepper, garlic and onions, served with rice and black beans.

Cactus vegetarian plate and tacos from El Faro Restaurant. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times
Cactus vegetarian plate and tacos from El Faro Restaurant. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Moreno’s Liquors, 3724 W. 26th St.

Moreno’s offers over a selection of 700 tequilas and 300 mezcals. Opened in 1977, the 14,000-square-foot business is also stocked with hard-to-find liquors and spirits. The father-and-son owners, Mike Moreno Sr. and Mike Moreno Jr., are hoping to open an adjacent bar soon.

Mike Moreno Jr. and his dad Mike Moreno Sr. run Moreno’s Liquors in Little Village. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times
Mike Moreno Jr. and his dad Mike Moreno Sr. run Moreno’s Liquors in Little Village. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Artesanias Elena, 4333 W. 26th St.

Owner Elena Duran hand-selects clothing, accessories, home goods and baby gifts directly from the artists in Mexico.

Ernesto Duran and his wife Elana Duran run Artesanias Elana, and sell authentic art from Mexico. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Ernesto Duran and his wife Elana Duran run Artesanias Elana, and sell authentic art from Mexico. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

OK Corral Western Wear, 3300 W. 26th St.

There are boots, belts, hats and saddles galore here for your inner cowboy/cowgirl. If you want to kick it up a notch, the VIP location, at 3943 W. 26th St., sells higher end and hard-to-find western goods.

El Nopal Bakery, 3648 W. 26th St.

Under new ownership, the 60-year-old bakery has reopened after a brief closure, bringing back custom cakes, empanadas and breads, and heart-shaped cookies called hojarascas.

Another longtime favorite is Rosy’s, 3237 W. 26th St. For signature cakes, head to BomBon, 3834 W. 26th St.

Chaparrita, 2500 S. Whipple

Many consider Chaparrita’s tacos the best in the city. Longtime cook Cesar Castillo told me the most popular tacos were the tripa, lengua, longaniza and al pastor — all served with charred spring onions, fresh radish slices and lime wedges. Also popular is the wide selection of aguas frescas and smoothies. Be sure to try owner Angelina Mendez’s tepache — an effervescent fermented pineapple drink.

Chef Cesar Castillo and owner Angelina Mendez of La Chaparrita Taqueria. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Chef Cesar Castillo and owner Angelina Mendez of La Chaparrita Taqueria. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Taqueria los Barrilitos, 3518 W. 25th St.

Food critics and the taco-obsessed say this taqueria has the second-to-none tacos al pastor. Sliced off a giant rotating shawarma-style spit, the pork is juicy, with a slight heat and sweetness.

Mi Tierra, 2528 S. Kedzie

This behemoth restaurant resembles a Mexican hacienda. The new owners of the 30-year-old business have been renovating the 22,000-square-foot building since 2016. The menu’s showstopper is the parrilladas — a mound of sizzling meats (chicken, chorizo, beef ribs, pork chops and skirt steak) and/or seafood (prawns, fish, calamari and octopus).

Parrillada de lujo served at Mi Tierra Restaurant contains chicken, chorizo, beef ribs, pork chops, jumbo shrimp and arrachera.  Served with beans, tortillas and pico de gallo. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Parrillada de lujo served at Mi Tierra Restaurant contains chicken, chorizo, beef ribs, pork chops, jumbo shrimp and arrachera. Served with beans, tortillas and pico de gallo. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

El Tecolote, 3519 W. 26th St.

At this seafood lovers’ dream, you can get your shrimp served in a variety of styles from a la diabla to Veracruz style or stuffed with cheese rellenos and wrapped in bacon. From ceviche, cocktail style (served with tomato, avocado, onion, cilantro), to soups, there is octopus, fish, crab and shrimp. Wash it all down with El Tecolote’s signature micheladas, a Mexican cocktail made with beer, tomato and lime juice.

Gordillas, 3759 W. 26th St.

Come to this restaurant, inspired by the food of Durango, Mexico, for gorditas — pastries made from masa stuffed with a filling — and the no-frills burritos.

Birrierria Patinos Ocotlan, 3809 W. 26th St.

The restaurant specializes in goat meat. Locals head here for authentic birria — a spicy stew that hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco. The tacos de cabeza are another crowd-pleaser.

Trohas Chicken and Shrimp, 4151 W 26th St.

For over a century, Trohas, founded by business owner George Troha, has been breading and frying shrimp, chicken and fish by hand. Restaurant staff claims Trohas had the first carry-out fried chicken service in the city — six years before Col. Sanders introduced the world to KFC.

Carne asada and al pastor tacos at La Chaparrita Taqueria. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Carne asada and al pastor tacos at La Chaparrita Taqueria. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times