Celebrate Mexico in Pilsen, Chicago’s Mexican-American mecca

As school vacation days near and holiday shopping costs rack up, plan a budget-friendly visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Not only does this museum introduce visitors to the bright and engaging art of Mexico, it’s also free, making it an inexpensive day out with the kids even when you add in a visit to one of the nearby ethnic restaurants.

I recently visited the museum with four kids. Several had been studying Spanish in school and were working on Day of the Dead projects. This was a chance to see real ofrendas (Mexican shrines to dead relatives). In spite of the fact that numerous pieces of the museum’s art feature the skulls and skeletons representative of the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday that celebrates the deceased, there’s nothing gloomy or disturbing about these art collections.

The museum is made up of spacious rooms with different types of Mexican art-from sculptures to paintings to photographs. The bold, bright colors are captivating and the skeletons incorporated into the artwork interested the boys in the group. We even loved the gift shop with its sculptures, masks and ofrendas-it was nearly as much fun to look through as the museum itself.

The building’s small size meant we were able to see everything in an hour. We then walked to Nuevo Leon, a hugely popular Mexican restaurant on 18th Street. We arrived early for lunch-good thing because as we were leaving, the line was out the door.

We enjoyed truly scrumptious ethnic cuisine at a great price. Be prepared for long waits if you arrive at mealtime. Crowded conditions also would make it a challenge to bring a stroller inside. But if your kids can endure a wait, the food and atmosphere are definitely worth it. Also keep in mind that this is a cash-only restaurant. But it’s a great way to end a day immersed in the culture of Mexico.

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