Strolling through Pilsen is one of my all-time favorite ways to kill some time. The quirky South Side neighborhood is always slinging up new shops and cafes, each with their own unique specialty (pork, sweets, beef, tamales, tortillas), and I haven't even rounded the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating out in this spirited, still-on-the-cheap-side 'hood.
Though I'm completely in love with the blaring Mexican music, the enticing scent of char-grilled meat wafting from open windows, the friendly hello in a stranger's eye and the simplicity of a real working class neighborhood, one of Pilsen's best features is BomBon.
I stumbled upon it after a mighty fine lunch of grilled shrimp and Cuba Libres at Nuevo Leon (a lovely, always packed BYOB joint across the street) and literally felt my tummy do somersaults. Its adorable facade is the brightest spot on 18th Street, and its interior is what sweet tooth daydreams are made of—cookies, cakes and candies galore.
Walking into the warmth of the bakery is like being inside your granny's oven as she bakes chocolate cake—but we ain't talking your Midwestern granny. Husband and wife owners Luis Perea and Laura Cid-Perea took a cue from smaller European bakeries and kept things simple by adding no tables. And though it's strictly a pick-up shop, you'll slam half of what's in your bag before you even make it to the front door.
Chattering a mile a minute, giggling Mexican bakers skitter around the back kitchen whipping up huge batches of crunchy cookies, adorable tarts, exquisite custom-made cakes and an astonishing array of brilliant mini tres leches cakes. Instead of creating a giant tres leches cake and slicing it up, they create miniature versions of the dessert in tiny silver pans with holed-out plastic tops perched on them so the fluffy whipped cream protruding out can tickle your nose.
I promptly bought four to try—as well as a rice pudding and fruit concoction (which was just so-so). The tres leches, on the other hand, were excellent. They weren't drenched in the three milks as most versions are, and instead were kept lighter and fluffier, with a deep homemade taste through and through.
Though the petite apple tartlets were practically screaming my name, I'll have to save those treats for another day. A girl's belly can only handle so much sugar in one outing. I was near bursting after a few bites. Maybe those potent Cuba Libres had something to do with my comfort level, but in the end, how could I complain?
The Final Rave: I am still mad for the tres leches at nearby Kristoffer's Cafe, but BomBon just has so much more variety. Try the amaretto.
Keep It Going:
Drink it: Skylark
This Pilsen institution is the place to hang for some good indie tunes and a copious amount of Cuba Libres.
Eat it: Taqueria El Milagro
I've heard that its chile rellenos rival all the best in the city, but it's the tamales (yes, they do have vegetarian ones) that keep the folks rolling back in.
Do it: Cafe Jumping Bean
This super-cute cafe allegedly serves delicious vegetarian focaccia bread sandwiches, but it's the free wi-fi that counts.
Get crazy with it: BomBon Cafe
The owners have taken the next leap with a 30-seat cafe on Ashland Avenue. Everything on the menu begs to be tried at least once.