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A hand squeezes lime juice onto a bowl of birria ramen. Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

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Dive Into Soup Season in Little Village Where Caldo and Birria Ramen Reign

Join Eater Chicago in a crawl through La Villita, sampling the best cures for a chilly wintry day

In winter, Chicago shifts into soup season, and in Little Village, soup is a vast and varied category. La Villita, a proud Mexican enclave for decades, the neighborhood’s restaurants are known for regional Mexican cuisine and serve as vital community gathering places.

With so many tasty choices — including tortilla soup, pozole, menudo, and caldo de pollo — sussing out where to go in Little Village for standout soups can feel like a daunting task. Allow Eater Chicago to assist with a few suggestions alongside contributor Brenda Storch and photographer Jack X. Li, with a restaurant crawl through La Villita, visiting restaurants like a Northern Mexican neighborhood icon that dates back to the 1960s and a contemporary Tijuana-style spot serving trendy cross-cultural mashups. Storch, featured in Season 3 of Netflix’s Taco Chronicles, played a key role in combing through the many excellent neighborhood dining spots. A native Spanish speaker, she also bridged language gaps with restaurateurs and piped up with helpful details, like her technique for rolling tortillas to soak up every drop of broth, as well as insights into the nuances of Mexican soup culture.

“In Mexico, there’s a difference between soups and caldos,” she explains. “With a few exceptions, soups or ‘sopas’ are light and usually served as an entree, while caldos are considered more of a meal.”

Nuevo Leon Restaurant

3657 W. 26th Street

Nuevo Leon Restaurant, covered in Mexican American murals, on a street corner.
Late patriarch Emeterio Gutierrez originally founded Nuevo Leon on 18th Street.
A dining room inside Mexican restaurant Nuevo Leon.
A relatively quiet morning at Nuevo Leon.
A bowl of red soup filled with shrimp and vegetables.
Caldo de camaron.
A hand squeezes lime into a bowl of red soup.
Lime juice adds a bright burst of acidity.

When searching for an entry point to dining in Little Village look no further than popular neighborhood destination Nuevo Leon — which is immediately recognizable thanks to intricate Day of the Dead murals that decorate its facade all year round. Founded in 1962 by late patriarch Emeterio Gutierrez on 18th Street, it was the oldest restaurant in Pilsen until it burned down in a 2015 fire. Now, his son, Emeterio Gutierrez Jr., and daughter, Laura Gutierrez, run the show on 26th Street, where the latter pops up around the dining room offering feedback on orders. We ordered a piping hot bowl of caldo de camaron. The soup — a melange of tender carrots, green peppers, and springy shrimp in mild red-hued broth — is light and restorative, especially when doctored up with a burst of lime juice. But Laura Gutierrez lightheartedly told us our order was incorrect. After all, there are no native shrimp in Nuevo Leon, the state. Meat is the real star in Northern Mexico, where Gutierrez’s family originated.

A glass door into Osito’s tap with an illustration of a chihuahua.
The kitchen at Osito’s Tap opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays but serves a well-loved pozole verde de pollo.
The storefront of Moreno’s Liquors.
Osito’s owner Mike Moreno, Jr. is also behind local stalwart Moreno’s Liquors.

Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan

3813 W. 26th Street

A restaurant storefront with an awning that reads “Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan.”
Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan has relocated after its founding in the 1980s.
A cook cuts birria meat off the bone.
The team doesn’t hide how the birria is made.
A sign inside Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan.
The menu offers many tempting options.
A hand dips a rolled tortilla into a bowl of birria.
Mexican dining experts have opinions on the correct way to dip tortillas.

A few minutes away by foot on 26th Street, this unfussy birria specialist (founded in the 1980s) dispenses with decorative frills and instead places all of its focus on delivering juicy, tender goat. It’s a casual environment where customers and employees mill around to chat between rich and fatty bowls of Jalisco-style birria loaded with hunks of goat meat and fragrant minced cilantro. While opinions vary within the Mexican diaspora on the proper tortilla-holding technique, Storch prefers to roll it into a cigar shape, pinch it with two forefingers and thumb, and swirl it around to absorb all that complex flavor.

Taqueria Los Gallos

4211 W. 26th Street

Two cooks work inside an open kitchen at Taqueria Los Gallos.
An open kitchen fills the restaurant with the aroma of grilled meat.
Rooster figurines inside a restaurant.
One could describe the style as rooster kitsch.
A bowl of carne en su jugo.
Carne en su jugo.
A large dining room filled with tables.
There’s plenty of room for the whole crew.

It’s a slightly longer walk — 10 minutes or so — to reach Taqueria Los Gallos, but those who come prepared for winter weather will be richly rewarded with the team’s ever-popular carne en su jugo, and likely a large table in the restaurant’s spacious dining room that’s filled with the aroma of sizzling beef. Also rooted in Jalisco-style cuisine, the taqueria delivers a bowl brimming with perfectly toothsome flank steak and equally flavorful broth, gilded with onion, radish, and sliced avocado that offer a range of textures for balance. This is a solid midday soup, filling but not food coma-inducing, and it’s fun to examine the restaurant’s rooster-themed knickknacks (a nod to its name) scattered throughout the space.

El Faro Restaurant

3936 W. 31st Street

A sign for El Faro restaurant.
Soup crawlers would be wise to bundle up in wintertime.
A small dining room inside El Faro.
Regulars also rave about El Faro’s vegetarian options.
A bowl of caldo de res.
Caldo de res.

When the temperatures are tolerable, it takes about 20 minutes of pounding the pavement to get over to El Faro from Taqueria Los Gallos, but one could be forgiven for hopping in the car for a quick journey over to 31st Street for a bowl of caldo de res. A rustic, homey assortment of beef, thick-cut vegetables, and light broth make this a compelling option for diners in search of a warm and satisfying pick-me-up that won’t spoil dinner. For a little sugar rush to propel through the afternoon, follow the soup with a slice of impossibly moist pastel de tres leches.

TacoSur Birrieria Tijuanense

3057 S. Pulaski Road

A restaurant worker in a blue hat and apron.
TacoSur’s team is smartly dressed in blue tones.
A worker spoons something onto a plate of food behind a counter.
Catch all the action through the open kitchen.
A bowl of birria ramen.
Birria ramen.
A fork pulls noodles out of a bowl of birria ramen.
There’s room for both traditional and modern soups in Little Village.

Little Village is also home to modern cooking. TacoSur opened in spring 2023 just steps away from El Faro and features a similarly of-the-moment dish: birria ramen, a social media-informed invention that made its way to Chicago amid a “red wave” of trendy birria dishes that have become a sensation in recent years across the U.S. Flash-fried, shelf-stable instant noodles are designed to absorb flavor, which make them a remarkable vehicle for savoring every drop of savory broth. The cultural mashup makes sense in the casual, counter-service restaurant where patrons can watch workers carve meaty swaths off a glorious trompo.

There’s something nostalgic about a great soup experience, an inherently cozy feeling that perhaps explains the enduring power of George Costanza’s deeply relatable Seinfeld declaration that launched a thousand memes: “I’ve gotta focus — I’m shifting into soup mode.”

Achieving that elevated state, however, is only possible in the right context. It’s all there for the sipping, savoring, and slurping in Little Village.

Osito's Tap

2553 South Ridgeway Avenue, , IL 60623 (773) 277-8117 Visit Website

Nuevo Leon Restaurant

1515 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608 (312) 421-1517 Visit Website

Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan

3813 W. 26th Street, Chicago , IL 60623 (773) 277-4116

El Faro Restaurant

3936 West 31st Street, , IL 60623 (773) 277-1155 Visit Website

Taqueria Los Gallos

4211 West 26th Street, , IL 60623 (773) 762-7452

TacoSur Birrieria Tijuanense

3057 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60623 (773) 502-0647 Visit Website

TacoSur Birreria Tijuanense

3057 South Pulaski Road, , IL 60623 (773) 502-0647 Visit Website

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