- • Best Front Yard Quesadillas
- • Best Crowdfunding
- • Best Place to Outfit Your Dancing Horse
- • Best Low-Key Skate Park
- • Best Menu for Adventurous Eaters
I was born and raised in Little Village, and I continue to live here. When I went off to college in 2006, I was the first in my family and, as far as I know, the first on my block to do that, so I was very, very homesick in New York. I was always just thinking about home and missing my family and my neighborhood, so I would google “Little Village”, hoping to find news and just good stuff to read about my home, and I realized that there really wasn’t much out there, you know. There were always articles about shootings, immigration raids, all this negative stuff, and I felt like we needed to balance that out a bit.
I realized there was a sizable number of people from the neighborhood who were on Facebook and I figured I should start a little group to bring people together and just talk about their block, their school, or anything about Little Village. Back when we first started, the media wasn’t very responsive to hyperlocal issues. They wouldn’t do business profiles or cover the good work of nonprofit organizations or churches, so we started featuring small businesses, young people doing positive graffiti or playing basketball, just people in their element doing positive things. People were very responsive. There’s always been a lot of positive feedback, reminiscences, and people just talking about their community.
I had grown up with the media always portraying us as kind of a bad neighborhood, but once I left I realized just how much I missed it. There’s a sense of family everywhere you go, and the food is as authentic as it’s going to get when it comes to Mexican food—you have recipes that our mothers and grandmothers, who immigrated just one or two generations ago, created. We have block clubs—I mean, I know they’re everywhere in the city, but here they’re extremely well-organized. They actually get together to plan and to entertain. Especially in the summer, every single Saturday there are block parties, run by families.
I believe we have the strongest work ethic in the city of Chicago. Maybe that’s boastful, but I believe that’s the case. I think that shows through in someone like the paletero, and all the street vendors that you see on 26th Street and elsewhere in Little Village. I think they really set the tone for the street vending movement that’s emerging in Chicago. The taco trucks and street vending trucks that are starting to get organized, I think that really began with the paleteros and the other vendors in places like Little Village.
I think the media has caught on now, after a long time. The community has gotten really quick about breaking stories about positive things happening, and the media will follow up on those stories. A lot of the news that we learn about is through the Facebook page. People send us their news. It’s a very collaborative process—unintentionally, but that’s how it works.
Jackie Serrato is an independent journalist and lifelong Little Village resident. She started the “La Villita, Chicago” group on Facebook, which now has more than 100,000 members.
Best Front Yard Quesadillas
Alex Gonzales, 24th and California
Just after five in the evening on weekends, you can find tortilla-maker extraordinaire Alex Gonzales casually manning a flat-top grill outside his house on 24th St. and California Ave. Using his hands and a small wooden press, he molds rounds of fresh dough into quesadillas and gorditas that he serves mainly to his friends and acquaintances. It’s a part-time gig—Gonzales, who doubles as a youth soccer coach, only brings his culinary talents outside in the summer, or if it’s over fifty degrees in cooler months. Chip in a few dollars, and Gonzales and his wife will gladly share. The food’s ephemerality only makes it taste better, especially when you can sit on a small stool and eat it in the company of a few friendly strangers. Order a Mexico City-style guarache, a flat round of dough filled with beans and topped with meat, and you just might have to share slices with the diner to your left. (Will Cabaniss)
24th St. & S. California Ave. Friday–Sunday, pending good weather, from early in the afternoon until after midnight.
GoFundMe for Fidencio Sanchez
Sometimes it’s hard to resist the feeling that humanity just sucks, and most days there’s a lot of evidence for that claim. But sometimes, through the power of small donations and the Internet, a group of strangers produces something like a divine intervention. This summer, that intervention took the form of a GoFundMe for Fidencio Sanchez, an 89-year-old paleta vendor who left a temporary retirement earlier this year after his daughter’s death put his family in dire financial straits. The online fundraiser had an original goal of $3000, but after going viral and being shared more than 100,000 times, the campaign has, at press time, amassed more than $380,000 in relief for Fidencio. The memories of Fidencio and Little Village that flood the comments section of the fundraiser are a strong testament to the impact one person’s hard work can have on the world around them. Here’s hoping Fidencio enjoys his well-earned reward. (Jake Bittle)
You can donate to Joel Cervantez Macias’s GoFundMe for Fidencio Sanchez at gofundme.com/2am4q7kk
Best Place to Outfit Your Dancing Horse
OK Corral VIP Western Wear
Walking west along 26th Street, it’s not surprising to see strings of taquerias, paleta carts, and various stands selling balloons, toys, and flags painted red, white, and green. But when you encounter OK Corral, one of the largest Western wear stores in Little Village, you may raise an eyebrow. Although the city of Chicago may seem like an odd market for OK Corral’s inventory of authentic Mexican boots, belts, hats, and saddles, the sales clerk assured me that residents of Little Village and surrounding neighborhoods are eagerly snatching these luxury items up.
Many of the items for sale are hand-tooled leatherwork, imported directly from craftsmen in Mexico, and list for prices that would appear as four dollar signs on Yelp. Some of the piteado belts sold there take more than a month to create, and are embroidered with silver thread. Also on display are decorative saddles for Charro riders and their horses, whose “dancing” talents are featured each year in the neighborhood’s annual celebration of Mexican culture and history.
When asked about the boots, the sales clerk smiled, as if this was the best part of her job, and began to proudly list their impressive offering of leathers, including cow, lizard, stingray, crocodile, elephant, ostrich foot, and ostrich skin. (Jackson Bierfeldt)
OK Corral VIP Western Wear, 3300 W. 26th St. Open daily, 11am–8pm. (773) 703-3310.
Best Low-Key Skate Park
Pitrowski Silver Skate Plaza
A few years ago, a concrete slab on the edge of Piotrowski Plaza at 31st and Kildare was a DIY skating scene. Recently, community members, with help from the city, built the space into the full-fledged park that exists today. Though the completion of the Loop’s Grant Skate Park in late 2014 has lured many Chicago skaters downtown, Piotrowski was deemed to be just low-key enough for Justin Bieber to skate there in November of last year and “just have fun and be normal (kind of) for a little :).” During the summer, the skate park also hosts Skate JAM—skate sessions that feature open-air concerts by local bands. (Jackson Bierfeldt)
Piotrowski Silver Skate Plaza, W. 31st St. & S. Kildare Ave. Daily, 6am–11pm.
La Casa de Samuel
La Casa de Samuel is, in many ways, quite conventional. Mariachi music erupts in spurts, decor is somewhat sparse, and margaritas are very large. But turn to the back page of Samuel’s menu and a new world opens up: exotic meats. These are headlined by the creadillas (grilled bull’s testicles), of course, which come sliced up and served in either mole or a pepper sauce. But adventurous eaters should know that not far down the list one can also find grilled alligator, grilled iguana, and grilled rattlesnake. No word yet on how those look or taste, but rest assured they’ll find a home inside one of the fresh tortillas served up by a woman named Eloisa from her perch at a tiled bar near the window. Looking to tag along with a more daring friend? The cabrito en hoja de plátano, a mess of goat meat baked in a banana leaf, is a less fear-inducing option. Wash it down with a goblet of painfully sweet jamaica, and your Samuel experience is complete. (Will Cabaniss)
La Casa de Samuel, 2834 W. Cermak Rd. Monday–Thursday, 7am–11pm; Friday–Saturday, 7am–1:30am; Sunday, 7am–10:30pm. (773) 376-7474. lacasadesamuel.com