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Taste of Chicago 2019 Will Feature 82 Food Vendors Focusing on Diversity

The fest returns July 10 to 14 in Grant Park

Taste of Chicago returns July 10 to 14.
Taste of Chicago/Facebook
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

When Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park from July 10 to 14, the festival will feature 82 food vendors which is nine more than 2018. This is the 39th edition of the Taste, and this year city officials added 37 new vendors with a focus on international cuisine. Officials from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said they want to better showcase Chicago’s diversity, as it’s been the subject of many pieces in recent years.

One of those stories appeared in Eater which pondered why the city didn’t better utilize the festival to spotlight restaurants on the South and West sides, as well as restaurants owned by people of color. The city agreed, with officials citing the story as motivation to send out more staff to knock on doors to recruit chefs. They even held a workshop at the Chicago Cultural Center and invited interested vendors to attend to ask questions. They worked with the Illinois Restaurant Association to better connect with vendors.

The result is, as of now, more than 50 percent of the vendors are either owned by women or people of color, according to Taste of Chicago manager Neal Heitz. They’ll add more vendors before July, but the target is to increase that number to 65 percent. For context, in 2017, the number was less than 50 percent.

Increasing the festival’s diversity isn’t just to make organizers feel better, but it’s also a sound business decision, according to Mark Kelly commissioner of the city’s cultural affairs and special events committee that oversees the festival. He pointed out that over the last two years, thanks mostly to target entertainment, that Latino festival attendance has surged by 60 percent. Taste should better represent city demographics, Kelly said.

“Not to pick on Lollapalooza, but it’s narrow, it’s closed in,” he said. “It’s not part of the city. Taste is a city celebration.”

Heitz added: “We’re fine with four-star restaurants being involved but we want to represent the diversity of the city, the ethnicities, the neighborhoods — all parts of the city.”

So the special tasting menu dinners featuring celebrity chefs that the Taste had held in past years of gone, with more of a focus on inclusion. New vendor highlights include Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue in Austin and Slab Bar-B-Que in South Shore. Another vendor of note is Lao Sze Chuan. Tony Hu’s Chinese restaurant was a former festival staple with Hu handing out samples and educating crowds about Sichuan cuisine. Coinciding with Hu’s legal troubles, Lao Sze Chuan disappeared from the Taste’s lineup. But more than a year after his release from prison, Lao Sze Chuan will return.

Kitchen 17, the Lakeview vegan restaurant, gives the festival a meatless choice. Heitz is also excited about Yvolina’s Tamales in Pilsen. A Place by Damao, the Chinese restaurant in Bridgeport, Luella’s Gospel Bird in Bucktown, and 90 Miles Cuban Café in Logan Square, Roscoe Village, and Lincolnwood are other newbies this year.

If this is a start, then hopefully the Taste and its 65 staffers will continue to move the needle in future festivals with Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot onboard. There needs to be a sustained effort year after year for true progress and leadership needs to embrace diversity as a necessity, not just a talking point.

There’s still room to improve. Taking a look at the lineup, West Side restaurants are still underrepresented. Eater held a panel discussion about Chicago’s international cuisine scene last week at the Ace Hotel. Attendees of the Eater Talk wondered how they could better find international restaurants. There was an overwhelming response last week to a story about a new directory of African-American-owned restaurants.

Though there’s interest in change, Taste of Chicago still battles an image problem: it’s not exactly edgy (despite Kelly saying it is). Folks still think it’s a mess of tourists slogging through Grant Park looking for food on a stick. That may have been true of the past, but Kelly said things are changing.

“If you haven’t been in the last five years, then you don’t know Taste,” he said.

Check out the Taste of Chicago’s 2019 lineup below.

(*Denotes newcomer for 2019)

42 Five-Day Vendors

Arun’s Thai Restaurant

Aunty Joy’s Jamaican Kitchen

Beat Kitchen

*Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue

Billy Goat Tavern

BJ’s Market & Bakery

*Brazilian Bowl

Buona Beef

*Buscia’s Bacon Buns

Caffe Gelato Soiree

Chicago’s Dog House

Churro Factory/Xurro

Connie’s Pizza

Doom Street Eats


Franco’s Ristorante

Frannie’s Café


Garifuna Flava: A Taste of Belize

Gold Coast Dogs

Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls


Josephine’s Cooking

Kasia’s Deli

La Mexicana

*Lao Sze Chuan

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Premier Rollin BBQ

Rainbow Cone


Robinson’s No 1 Ribs

Seoul Taco

Texas de Brazil

*The Cookie Crate

The Eli’s Cheesecake Company

*The Slab Bar-B-Que

The Star of Siam

Ukai Japanese Restaurant

Vee Vee’s African Restaurant

Yum Dum

*Yvolina’s Tamales

23 Pop-Up Restaurants

*90 Miles Cuban Café .

*A Place by Damao

*Bar Takito

*Barangaroos Aussie Pies

BettyBop Shop

BITES Asian Kitchen + Bar

*Black Dog Gelato

Classic Cobbler

*Dmen Tap

*Dog Haus

*Egg Rolls Etc.

*Gordo’s Homemade Ice Cream Bars

*Jason’s Deli

*Jeannie’s Flan

*Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

*Jus Sandwiches

*Kitchen 17

*Luella’s Gospel Bird

*Madame VanderKloot’s Weiner Emporium

*Nourish Catering

Seafood City Supermarket (Grill City)

These Wingz?

Warm Belly Bakery

Wood Fire Counter

17 Food Trucks

American Glory

Aztec Dave’s Food Truck

Beavers Coffee + Donuts

*Big Wang’s Chinese Street Food

*Coastline Catering

*Da Pizza Dude


Harold’s Chicken

La Cocinita

Lawrence’s Fish & Shrimp

*Mr. Quiles Mexican Food

*Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes

*Pink Flamingo (Flamingo Rum Club)

*Pink Taco

The Lifeway Kefir Shop

*Three Legged Tacos

*Whadda Jerk

La Cocinita

2317 Veterans Memorial Boulevard, , LA 70062 (504) 346-6903 Visit Website

Kitchen 17

2554 West Diversey Avenue, , IL 60647 (312) 391-8654 Visit Website

The Slab Bar-B-Que

1918 East 71st Street, , IL 60649 (773) 966-5018 Visit Website

Billy Goat Tavern

1535 West Madison Street, , IL 60607 (312) 733-9132 Visit Website

Black Dog Gelato

859 North Damen Avenue, , IL 60622 (773) 235-3116 Visit Website

Gold Coast Dogs

159 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60601 (312) 917-1677 Visit Website

Seoul Taco

738 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 265-1607 Visit Website

Caffe Gelato

2034 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622 (773) 227-7333 Visit Website

DMen Tap

2849 West Belmont Avenue, , IL 60618 (773) 961-8757 Visit Website

Pink Taco

100 M Street Southeast, , DC 20003 (202) 970-7724 Visit Website

Star of Siam

11 East Illinois Street, , IL 60611 (312) 670-0100 Visit Website

Bar Takito

201 North Morgan Street, , IL 60607 (312) 888-9485 Visit Website


10633 South Western Avenue, , IL 60643 (773) 941-6980 Visit Website

Ace Hotel

20 West 29th Street, Manhattan, NY 10001 (212) 679-2222 Visit Website

Rainbow Cone

9233 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60643 (773) 238-7075 Visit Website

Hakka Bakka

1251 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (872) 802-3968 Visit Website

Grant Park

337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601 (312) 742-3918 Visit Website

Seafood City

5033 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60630 (773) 295-1658

Lao Sze Chuan

304 Southeast Oak Street, , MN 55414 (612) 886-3906 Visit Website

Warm Belly Bakery

1148 West Monroe Street, , IL 60607 (312) 265-0780 Visit Website