La Catrina

La Catrina is a great space on 18th street in Pilsen. Its lively murals beckon you to step in and you are welcomed by all kinds of catrinas (typical Mexican female skeleton representations of Death) displayed all over a very light, spacious, and colorful interior.

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Inside you will find three large rooms and each of them has a distinct feel and personality.

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The east room is darkened by the curtains behind the stage for live music and has high tables and stools as well as a rack with merchandise for sale. The tin ceilings and the low light make it feel more like a bar than a cafe, even though they don’t serve alcohol.

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The middle room is where you’ll find the highest traffic and all the activity as the patrons order their food and drinks. This room has a few couches with coffee tables, plush chairs with side tables, and a couple of wooden communal tables with colorful chairs surrounded by bright-colored walls. You can also sit at stools on the bars by the windows to watch Pilsen life go by. 

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The west room has lots of natural light, plenty of tables and chairs, exposed brick walls, and displays local art on the walls. This room feels the quietest, most serious and studious area of them all. Today it was closed because they were unpacking new art, but when I’ve been here before it’s the space where most of the people who silently type with ferocious intensity at their laptops converge.
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On my most recent visit I also discovered they have an outdoor patio with a few tables, a grill, and what looks like a stage. I didn’t know this existed and I’ve been coming here for years. Maybe they do something cool here on summer evenings, I’d have to investigate.

 

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La Catrina’s menu is mostly sandwich-based, but they also offer locally-baked pastries, coffee, espresso drinks, and some teas, including yerba mate. I like to look for their Mexican specials when I visit and they never disappoint. This time I got molletes (a comfort dish from my childhood consisting of toasted bolillo with beans and salsa) and a Dirty Abuelita (a Mexican hot chocolate with a shot of espresso).

 

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I always make a point of visiting independent coffee shops that are neighborhood darlings, but this one is truly a community cafe, owned by them, run by them, serving and welcoming everyone. This is immediately evident when you’re there. Last year they closed early for a family event and we quickly realized 90% of the patrons were there for the event. You can also see this table (below) with fliers for all the events, promotions, and advertising of services they have for local artists and businesses who are also their friends and neighbors.

 

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If you visit their Facebook page you’ll see them thanking the neighborhood for coming together to support the owners during tough times. Today I learned they had closed recently over a family loss and just reopened yesterday. It made my heart ache.
1011 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

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