Take the Pink Line to 18th street on a nice sunny day and proceed to walk eastbound. You will be encountered immediately by a variety of ethnically themed shops, bodegas, galleries, and of course cafes. This written tour starts where it all began, for me at least, on the corner of 18th and Bishop. Café Jumping Bean. By now the name jumping bean is synonymous with pilsen and the arts.
As a teenager I would frequent this Pilsen staple almost daily, just to sit around, bullshit and drink coffee with friends. This is the most conducive environment for such activity or course. We would look at the girls pass by through the huge display windows and even make an advance once in a blue moon; here is where we planned our failed zine, where we rebelliously smoked cigarettes in a corner (when it was still legal). We would admire the ever changing wall colors and rotating art work. We were inspired to be more than angst ridden teen agers with penchants for painting and planning ridiculously long urban treasure hunts. At one point in my life any time I would ask a girl on a date for the first time I would take her here. The wait staff knew me and still does to this day, but not by name just as “the kid with glasses who only drank black coffee.” The atmosphere is created by friendly staff, regulars, artwork, and decent music playing in the background. In fact as I write this I am sitting in my favorite seat in the café watching the weekend warriors venturing to the city from their suburban holes to take pictures of the murals and have a sterile urban adventure in pre approved ethnic spaces. The Jumping Bean is an ever bustling space offering coffee, and other coffee themed drinks like any other café. The sandwiches are out of this world and come in many varieties from Fococia to plain old turkey on rye all served with chips or pasta salad. The soup changes with the day and the prices are more than reasonable. After years and years of coming here I can say with distinction and pride that The Jumping Bean is king when it comes to Pilsen Cafes. Did I mention that there is free wifi?. After a brief chat with Eliazar Delgado, the proprietor of the establishment, I aksed him what he thought the key to his staying open for over 16 years was, simply put he pinned it on reliable service, amazing staff, and consistency. I couldn’t agree with him more. The only problem with the space as I see it is that often times it gets a bit over crowded, so much so that you cant even get a table.
The next café to visit if The Jumping Bean is too crowded takes you further down eighteenth street to Blue Island, in the middle of the block next to McDonalds you will find an unassuming café now called Efibina’s Café. Efibina’s started its run as a Pilsen café under a masculine nomenclature with a knack for logging on the net. It was originally an intenet café that happened to serve food and drink. It has since evolved into a full blown café. Efibina’s has the same artsy feel as most Pilsen café’s and eateries: there is a frequent art rotation, a menu packed with delicious artesian food, and of course coffee. Efibina’s has an open airy feel to it, mostly due to its rather large size and high ceilings. Efibina’s as an establishment is still rather young and has much to learn when it comes to customer service. Their lunch menu is out of this world and makes it worth the trip. I recommend the chicken salad sandwich, which is served with pasta salad, with their special blend iced tea.
Our journey now takes us further down eighteenth street to East Pilsen specifically eighteenth and Halsted Kristoffer’s Café and Bakery. I originally came upon Kristoffers’ some years ago while on an epic walk to Jamba Juice on Halsted from my home on Ashland. Being easily distracted and a bit of a fat boy I wandered in enticed by the smell of fresh baked pastries. I took a seat and was instantly reminded of The Central Perk, the fictional café form the epically gringo show Friends. Slightly embarrassed by the reference I ordered a coffee and slice of Tres Leches cake. It wasn’t until some time later that I learned that they were known for their tres leches cake aka lactose intolerant Mexican fat boy kryptonite. When the coffee came I wasn’t entirely sold on the place as it tasted a bit like plain old Folgers, then I took a bite of the cake. Suddenly the epic walk was worth it. Like the other cafes in this article, Kristoffers offers exceptional food at exceptional prices.
The battle for Pilsen’s top café will never truly be settled or won by any party, each place has its own charms and downsides. As long as Pilsen exists as it does there will always be neat spots to grab a cuppa and hang with friends in the presence of local art and good people