Following a trip to a Taste of Chicago preview event in Daley Plaza, the City of Chicago was kind enough to extend an invitation to walk around the fest and taste some food. I hadn’t been to the Taste in a few years and was curious how it had changed. Still held in Grant Park, the food fest was larger, a bit more expensive, and shorter. During the Dailey Administration, the Taste could stretch for weeks while Mayor Emmanuel has cut it down to a more manageable week.
While there were more food options than ever, including giving vegetarians many more options, the Taste hasn’t yet fully embraced Chicago’s growing foodie scene—I dream of a day where you can get a four-ticket taste of pig face from Girl & the Goat. However, I did appreciate the Chef du Jour where festival goers could sit down to a multi-course meal with a James Beard-recognized chef. Likewise, while the beer tent featured Chicago craft beer pioneers Goose Island, it didn’t seem to recognize that Chicago has an awesome craft beer scene right now.
Above all, the Taste of Chicago is this crazy, bacchanalia of food that provides constant entertainment from the personalities at the food booths, to the people getting down and funky to a surprisingly awesome James Brown cover band, to that guy double fisting turkey legs as big as my head. And even to the most jaded Chicagoan, walking up to Buckingham Fountain and taking in the Chicago skyline on a warm summer day is still a thing of beautiful wonder.
Stuffing My Face: the Best Food Consumed at This Year’s Taste of Chicago
The city provided a taste passport to select booths, which provided a fun way to get around the whole taste. In previous years, I’ve scarcely made a few feet before my stomach was ready to explode. Here’s the best of what I tried, though certainly a definitive list of the best food at the fest. Vendors sorry if we missed you, drop us a comment and we’d be happy to go visit you!
BJ’s Market and Bakery: Focusing on southern and soul food, BJ’s mustard-fried catfish was excellent. The cat fish bites were juicy and flaky with the right amount of breading and just a little spicy. Plus, BJ’s had some excellent honey mustard for dipping.
Bruges Brothers: The Chicago food truck makes handmade gourmet fries fried in a blend of beef and duck fat that crispy, full of potato, and well salted. To make life even better and filled with cheesy, meaty goodness, I tried my fries with their oxtail poutine.
Chicago Cupcake: Chicago Cupcake is another food truck and also delivers. Not the typical cupcake, these almost seem closer to mini cheesecakes. Their Crème Brulee had the perfect burnt caramel taste with a graham cracker bottom while the Birthday Cake tasted exactly like a smooth, creamy cake.
Farmer’s Fridge: Farmer’s Fridge has a very unique concept—vending machines with fresh salads and healthy snacks. The Taste is generally heavy on greasy foods, and this was a refreshing, invigorating break for my stomach. I tried their thick Avocado toast, piled high with luscious mashed avocado, sesame seeds, and pickled radish.
La Mexicana: La Mexicana’s paleta fruit popsicles really hit the spot during a hot day at the Taste of Chicago. Made with fresh fruit, these popsicles were refreshing without being overly sweet. The lines were long and with good reason.
Star of Siam: Star of Siam’s has a popular location just west of the Mag Mile on Illinois, but they tend to show up very frequently at the city’s many street and music festivals. Whether it’s Pad Thai or pot stickers, they give you a lot of rather good food for the price. They’ve been music festival heroes for me before when I didn’t want to spend $20 just to get enough to eat.
Vee Vee’s African Restaurant: Vee Vee’s has been serving Nigerian food to the city for close to 25 years now. I sampled their sautéed goat. While Americans as a whole haven’t embraced goat, Chicago restaurants like Vee Vee’s and Girl & the Goat are helping to pave the way for the lean, affordable meat that tastes similarly to lamb. Vee Vee’s goat was very tender, topped with a tomato-based sauce, and served with sweet plantains (always a winner in my book).
Yum Dum: Last but not least, Yum Dum’s food truck might have been my favorite. Their baowich is an open-face bao bun that can be filled with a variety of ingredients—I went with crispy shrimp—and came across as more of an Asian taco. Even better were the Kimcheesy rice balls, arancini filled with very spicy kimchi and drizzled with a cheesy sauce. I could easily have stayed at Yum Dum all day and popped another 10 in my mouth.
Lastly, shout out to Chicago Dog House and Eli’s Cheesecake. Both of you are awesome, but I can only eat so much.