Taste of Chicago
The Taste of Chicago is my favorite time of year. I kid you not, I get more excited for this 10-day eating fest than I do for Christmas. Maybe it’s my suppressed inner fat kid, but I am of the belief that there’s not much better than a festival all about stuffing your face with Chicago’s most amazing foods. And trust me, there are plenty.
In 1980 a group of restaurateurs banded together to host the first ever Taste of Chicago on July 4th. The one-day festival was such a success that it has been an annual celebration of Chicago tastes ever since. Though it started as a modest affair, the food festival now runs for 10 days every summer, attracting over six million visitors each year. If that isn’t enough to prove that we Chicagoans know our gastronomy, then I suggest you check it out for yourself.
The event is a true Chicago experience, taking place in downtown’s Grant Park with the city skyline as the backdrop. Admission is free, but you have to purchase food tickets at the entrance in order to partake in the festivities. Tickets are sold in strips of 12 for $8, and it’s in your best interest to buy two or three strips to avoid waiting in line multiple times. Most food items run between 4-9 tickets, depending on size. If you want to try a lot of different things, I recommend getting the taste portions most stands offer — they tend to be a good deal and don’t fill you up too fast. More than 200 different food items are available for your eating pleasure, at over 70 vendor stalls. This event is not for the weak.
Though I do like to fly by the seat of my pants in some situations, I have a strict agenda at the Taste each year that includes a Buona Beef Italian Beef sandwich, Aunt Diana’s chocolate-dipped strawberries, a large slice of deep-dish cheese pizza, and Elephant Ears from Harry Carray’s. Leftover tickets are often put toward a watermelon slice the size of my head, Eli’s Cheesecake and a Rainbow Cone (a South Side staple). The amount of choices can sometimes be overwhelming, but a good trick is to follow the crowds; long lines usually mean great food. That’s not to say you shouldn’t check out some of the little guys… they often offer the good deals. If my directions sound vague, that’s because you really can’t go wrong here.
Though over-indulgence is the main event at the Taste, it’s not the only thing going on. Your friends on the South Beach Diet can still tag along and at least try to enjoy themselves (though I make no promises). Live music is scattered on small stages throughout the park, providing great entertainment while you dine. Main acts perform at the Petrillo Music Shell and have included John Mayer, Counting Crows and Carlos Santana.
If the mid-summer heat starts to get you (the event surrounds 4th of July), fear not. There’s a snazzy water ride at the south end of the park, so I usually stash a few tickets for when I need a little pick-me-up after my first five courses. You can also take a leisurely ride on the Ferris wheel if that kind of thing does it for you. I personally find it hard to go slowly around in a circle above hundreds of restaurant stalls calling my name, but that may just be me…
The 2010 Taste of Chicago will run from June 25 through July 4 in Grant Park. Check out the official website for more information, including what is and is not allowed in the park. If you must drive, there is limited parking in the Millennium Park lot, but we do NOT recommend it. The Red Line and Brown Line on the L drop you off just blocks from the park at either Adams & Wabash or on State Street. You can also ride your bike to the fest, though be aware that bikes are not allowed into the park during the Taste. Bike racks are plentiful outside of the grounds.