Wednesday is Taste of Chicago’s first day, as the five-day food-focused festival returns to Grant Park. The 39th annual event goes through Sunday with 36 new restaurants to try. Overall, there’s about 80 restaurants filling out this year’s lineup. Click here for the full lineup.
There’s competition this weekend from other festivals. Windy City Smokeout brings its barbecue and country music to the United Center parking lots. Square Roots Festival in Lincoln Square caters to residents who’d prefer to stick to the North Side. Unlike the Smokeout (one-day tickets cost $40 to $50) or Square Roots (there’s a suggested $10 donation for the latter), Taste of Chicago admission is free.
Food tickets cost $10 for 14, and are available onsite or online. Smaller “taste of” portions cost five or six tickets; full portions cost 10 to 12. Beer and wine range between 10 to 14 tickets. The Taste offers more than 300 items. Instead of squandering those tickets, check out Eater’s best food picks below.
Taste of Chicago goes from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday through Friday; 10 am. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Eater’s Top 10 Food Picks at the Taste
Arun’s Thai Restaurant: One of Chicago’s fine dining pioneers is trying to reestablish itself. Arun’s Phad Thai with big prawns is intriguing, along with the crab fried rice.
Chicago’s Dog House: This gourmet hot dog stand, near DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus, is the spiritual successor to Hot Doug’s encased meat emporium. The stand is also used to festivals and customers will more or less get full versions of what they’d eat at the restaurant instead of the truncated samples many fest vendors dish out. The gator isn’t local, imported from Humboldt Park’s waters, but Dog House will serve alligator sausage, as well as rattlesnake rabbit sausage.
Doom St. Eats: Puffs of Doom, which sold fancy creamy puffs, has evolved into Doom St. Eats. The caterer is back on the fest circuit with a variety of grilled cheeses. The ones that raise eyebrows include maple bacon doughnut, plus giardiniera variants.
Eli’s Cheesecake Company: Cheesecake on a stick is everything that’s right about summer festivals, so don’t be a snob and enjoy one of the festival’s iconic eats. Eli’s, a Chicago stalwart, is once more slinging frozen chocolate chip cheesecakes, impaled by a stick, and dipped in a crunchy dark chocolate.
Iyanze: From the owners of Bolat African Cuisine, Iyanze comes to the Taste with jerk chicken and more. But there’s a very curious item featured from the Uptown restaurant. Staff is serving Nigerian doughnuts, something that doesn’t appear on the restaurant’s menu. Commonly known as puff-puffs in Africa, Iyanze will unveil its take on the dessert at the Taste.
Lao Sze Chuan: The mayor of Chinatown is back. In years past, owner Tony Hu served as a Chinese food ambassador, handing out samples of his addictive “Tony’s Three Chili Chicken.” Lao Sze Chuan continues to be one of the city’s top Chinese restaurants and this year the crew will serve five spice Sichuan style chicken and Sichuan cold noodle salad.
Madame VanderKloot’s Weiner Emporium: This mysterious spot has no online presence save for an empty Facebook page, but an advertised butter lamb curry dog sounds like an intriguing Anglo-Indian spin on Chicago’s beloved franks. The pop-up makes its first and only appearance at the Taste on Saturday.
Place by Damao: This Sichuan restaurant in Bridgeport has gained critical acclaim, and it’s a victory for variety that festival organizers brought them to the Taste. It’s here only on Wednesday, when Place by Damao serves handmade sweet and spicy noodles and handmade bell dumplings. Folks will actually have to visit the restaurant for some of the more exotic offerings.
Slab BBQ: This South Shore barbecue recently reopened after a hiatus (the original was in Chatham) and serves traditional Chicago-style meats cooked in an aquarium smoker. For folks unfamiliar with Chicago’s barbecue traditions, Slab offers a prime chance to gnaw into rib tips or pork hot links.
Yvolina’s Tamales: The Taste has listened and there are more meat-free options for vegetarians and vegans. Yvolina’s provides a few intriguing choices: a vegan tamale with kale, peppers in mole or another option with quinoa and lentils; a vegetarian tamale with poblanos/spinach and cheese; and cauliflower vegan ceviche.