Best of La Villita 2021. Photo by Gerri Fernandez

Best of La Villita 2021

This year, La Villita received the most media attention in recent memory in response to the police killing of thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo. In the aftermath of his death, the community went through a torrent of emotions: anger, helplessness, shame, grief, and even harsh self-criticism.

People from all over the country and on social media came out of the woodwork to confirm their biases about this community and to distance themselves from it: “Bad parenting, bad kid, bad mother, bad neighborhood, bad people, criminals,” were some of the things that were said.

Some conservative members of the community were on the defensive and had strong opinions about Adam’s ill fate. Nevermind that Adam never pulled a trigger, that he ran in fear of the police but then stopped and complied. Nevermind that, ultimately, he was an innocent child. 

The Mexican community are a proud and resilient people, sometimes to a fault. Most don’t want to believe that after their migration to a different land, their backbreaking labor, and the sacrifice and discrimination that they or their family may have endured in this country could somehow result in street violence so close to home. 

Their journey could be interpreted as having been in vain when what they’re seeking is progress and to feel accepted. They are still trying  to believe that it all paid off even after an anxiety-filled four years of former president Donald Trump. 

Moreover, people in La Villita are so busy working full-time and surviving a pandemic. Not everyone has the bandwidth to think about how systemic factors may be weighing the community down and contributing to the countless youth in this city feeling purposeless and without direction.

There is a silver lining to this whole mess. The city truly showed up for La Villita. All summer, thousands of neighbors, activists, families, organizers, youth, teachers, clergy, and out-of-towners made it to the site where the boy was killed. Other communities held their own marches and vigils. Local grassroots organizations doubled down on their efforts against abusive policing, called out the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the mayor, and are building coalitions and actively advocating for more public resources for La Villita. 

At the policy level, CPD’s foot-chase protocols are getting revised and the idea of community control of the police is increasingly viable.

It’s too early to tell what the lessons and long-term effects Adam’s death will have on our collective psyche, but something will come out of this. In the meantime, it’s important not to be overcome by the loudest narrative and not to lose sight of the beauty, the glimmers of hope, and the small and big victories that happen on a daily basis in La Villita. 

This year’s issue is coming out on September 16th, so ¡Viva México! (Jacqueline Serrato)

Jacqueline Serrato of is the editor-in-chief of the Weekly and co-manages the largest neighborhood page on Facebook.

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Best Farmer’s Market

Mercado De Colores

Photo by Gerri Fernandez

Many residents don’t know that there is a recreational plaza on 26th Street, the Manuel Pérez Jr. Plaza, because it’s located between large commercial buildings and shadowed by rows of trees. Yet it’s the perfect place to stand and watch the popular Mexican Independence Day Parade, which has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19, according to the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

Still, during the pandemic, the plaza became a hangout for La Villita families who needed fresh air and social distancing. That’s why neighbors, mainly women, put their heads together in July 2020 to launch a weekend farmer’s market, el Mercado de Colores, in the underutilized space. 

The intention was to foster a network of farmers and gardeners to improve access to food and “agro-ecological products”, their mission states, and to increase environmental awareness, promote health, and strengthen the local economy.

Throughout the summer and fall, the group of organizers prioritized vendors who came from the community. They are asked to offer products that are organic, in season, and attained through sustainable means (no pesticides, fertilizers, and using recyclable packaging). During the stay-at-home order, they held virtual workshops through Facebook on planting, beekeeping, pickling, and visited each other’s gardens. 

Recurring items that you can find on Sundays include natural honey, culinary and medicinal herbs, potted plants, fruit preserves, seeds and nuts, salsas, organic eggs, handmade crafts like textiles, huaraches, artisanal soap and cosmetics, jewelry and accessories–even live painting. On a really good day, you’ll hear live mariachi, a DJ, or a dance class.

The effort has received the support of community organizations, churches, and the local alderman. And in just two years, it has grown considerably. Make a visit and eat an elote from the nearby vendor while you browse the wide selection. (Jacqueline Serrato)

Mercado de Colores, 4345 W. 26th St. mercadodecoloreslavillita.org. Sundays 11am-3pm weather permitting.

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Best Hip-Hop Recording Studio

Lone Wolf Records, LLC

Nestled between large brick buildings along one of the busiest corridors of La Villita, you will find an unlikely space for creativity and connection: Lone Wolf Records, LLC. Founder and owner Alexis “Demo” Ramirez created this space in order to allow community residents, specifically young people, to have a place to create music, audio productions, recordings, DJ drops, and other digital content. 

Demo grew up in the Little Village streets and found solace, inspiration, and community through music, specifically hip-hop. “I wanted to do it since I was a kid,” said Demo when I asked why this space is important to him. Additionally, building up the community is also important because  he realized there was no record label registered in the neighborhood, although music is and has historically been an anchor for the Mexican and Mexican-American community. 

The location, beyond being a strategic place near a business corridor, is also a lesson in honoring the labor of his late father’s work over three decades. An immigrant from Mexico, Jorge Ramirez bought a home in an area that during the early 90’s was fraught with violence and lack of City investment. Yet remaining connected to his culture was essential, and the home where the studio came to life is a testament to the arduous labor and sacrifice of Ramirez’s father as well as his belief in maintaining their cultural roots alive, which also shines through the work that Lone Wolf Records, LLC aims to do. 

As a self-taught sound engineer, Demo has been able to transform the home’s basement to bring to life his dream of

Courtesy of Laura Ramirez

having a state-of-the-art recording studio. “Now that the whole digital platform has changed, it is important to distribute your own stuff when you can pay for your own stuff.” The labor and the equipment have been put together through his own investment, as well as a modest income earned by helping to record community artists. 

His dream is to continue to provide music recording and sound mixing for hip-hop artists but also to branch out to other music genres including Mexican regional. He also hopes people can use his studio for podcasts and interviews that they want to make available on digital platforms. 

More importantly, his dream is set on growing the label to be able to provide a safe space for young people to pursue and evolve their passion for music in the heart of their own community. “People in the community know that if they want to do music, especially hip-hop, I’m willing to be someone who helps them out. It’s about having a beacon,” he said.

Since being established in 2020, Lone Wolf Records, LLC has recorded artists from both Mexico, Chicago and other states: El Grave (Aguascalientes), Juan Zarate, Phero, and Flatline Vendetta (Chicago) among others. 

The cost of sessions is negotiable and intended to be affordable to community residents and young people. You can find Alex and his studio by searching for Lone Wolf Records or Demo Ramirez on Facebook and Instagram. (Laura J. Ramírez)

Lone Wolf Records, LLC., 2430 S. Pulaski Rd. Visits by appointment at lonewolfrecords23@gmail.com.

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Best Fried Fish

Pescaditos Estilo D.F. aka Mr. Fish

Photo by Gerri Fernandez

You can find fried fish in many parts of the South Side and La Villita is no exception. For the past seven years, the Rivero family have put up a stand on the intersection of Cermak Rd. and Fairfield Ave. on weekend afternoons.

Owners Doña Emelia and Don Ricardo, immigrants in their 60s, were inspired by the beer-battered fried fish that are popular in the streets of Mexico City. While their stand is known to locals as Pescaditos Estilo D.F., their adult children promote the business to a wider clientele under the name Mr. Fish. Through word of mouth and videos on social media, customers are drawn to that corner for a quick snack or a full meal.

Courtesy of Mr. Fish

Reluctant to share what type of fish they work with, they have assured me that it’s not tilapia, but that it’s better. And a taste test confirms it: The white fish has a similar texture, but it’s cut thinner and it’s longer in length than tilapia, and the taste is more buttery. The crust is deep-fried and toasty, and it’s supposed to be drizzled with bottled Mexican hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. I personally like to add more salt.

This is the type of food that you have to eat on the spot in order to appreciate all of the flavors. People like to eat standing or in their car, but there are still many orders to-go. At under $2 per filet, people typically order three to five pescaditos (little fish). Then they walk into the corner store next door, La Copacabana, and buy a Mexican Coke to wash it down.

In 2019, someone called the City inspectors and the Riveros were taken to court for obstruction of the sidewalk and minor infractions like attaching a Mexican flag to a pole when they set up shop. Since then, they have received an outpouring of customers who want to support their hustle. 

Come through! The owners are hygienic, and they wear aprons, face masks, and gloves, and everything is cooked in front of you. (Jacqueline Serrato)

Pescaditos Estilo D.F./Mr. Fish; 2732 W. Cermak Rd. Friday-Sunday 3pm-8pm.

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Best Bike Shop in La Villita

Sanchez Bike Shop

Sanchez Bike Shop is located just off the #60 bus stop on 26th St. and Lawndale Ave. Sanchez’s serves La Villita residents with bike services, tools and equipment for any cyclist’s needs.

Owner Sergio Sanchez, 35, has provided bike repairs and other services for the community since 2013. It was originally established near 31st St. and Millard Ave. next to La Villita’s Gary Elementary School. Sergio is happy to be a part of the community by being a supportive presence for local bike riders, and he is able to feel more connected to home.

As an avid rider from Veracruz, Mexico, Sanchez felt the community needed a support system for daily riders as he thought about how thrilling yet dangerous the roads are in Mexico. He has advocated for protected bike lanes and better eco-friendly transportation. Now, in his neighborhood, he is motivated to provide support for cyclists as a means of improving the quality of health in La Villita. 

Apart from providing services such as bike repairs and tune-ups—with a focus as a family-friendly shop—you may find BMX bikes, fixed, single, and even tricycles for riders of all levels. The array of bikes come in all colors, styles, and sizes. 

“Me gustaría ver más pistas, parques, y reconocimiento de ciclistas en la comunidad.” (I would like to see more bike lanes, parks, and recognition of bike riders in the community.)

With Sanchez’s intention to see more bike equity for South Side cyclists who are in need of safe passage, Sanchez wishes to see more safe-guarded bike lane systems implemented in his neighborhood and green spaces for youth to explore in the neighborhood. 

Sanchez likes to share with others the simplicity and joys of a safe and healthy bike ride. (Gerardo S. Flores, Yollocalli Arts Reach and City Bureau)

Sanchez Bike Shop, 3654 W. 26th St. Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm.

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