July is in full swing, and in Chicago that can mean only one thing. No, not algae blooms or baseball games or any one of the city’s myriad live music festivals. July means the arrival of Taste of Chicago, which opened to the public yesterday and will continue every day through Sunday, July 13th. Spanning a wide swath of Grant Park with the main entrance on Jackson Boulevard, Taste of Chicago hides nothing by offering exactly what it says it will offer—a taste of some of Chicago’s most beloved restaurants.
But while entrance to the event is free, guests must purchase tickets that they can exchange in various quantities for either full portions or tasting sizes of the many booths’ offerings. Given that these tickets don’t run cheap ($8.50 for a strip of twelve tickets, with small Taste Of Portions costing primarily four or five tickets apiece), how should Taste of Chicago guests most wisely allocate their precious resources? Here for festivalgoers’ convenience is a list of the top ten restaurants to sample at this year’s Taste of Chicago.
Beat Kitchen’s uniquely decorated booth can be found on the left-hand side of South Columbus as guests walk in the direction of Buckingham Fountain. While this year’s festival features a number of vendors selling hamburgers, Beat Kitchen is the only place to find a veggie burger appropriate for both vegetarians and vegans. Meat lovers can still enjoy chicken or chorizo empanadas. And let’s be honest, everyone can enjoy tater tots. (http://www.beatkitchen.com/).
Chicago’s Dog House (816 W. Fullerton Ave.)
Chicago’s Dog House appears at Taste of Chicago for the first time this year, and from the lines outside its booth located on Jackson Boulevard one can assume that this will not be its last appearance. Mildly adventurous visitors can sample the infused cheddar bacon sausage, while true natives of Louisiana and fearless eaters can try their hand at smoked alligator sausage. Don’t worry—it tastes just like chicken. (http://www.chicagosdog.com/zgrid/themes/10568/intro/index.jsp).
Eli’s Cheesecake (6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr.)
Eli’s Cheesecake is a staple at Taste of Chicago, and this year is no different. While a note that this booth is located on the left-hand side of South Columbus in the direction of Buckingham Fountain may be required, guests should be able to spot this dessert vendor with ease. While all of its cheesecakes are creamy and delicious, the sample-sized Honey Mediterranean Cheesecake, while not overly Mediterranean, is a sweet and salty triumph. (http://www.elicheesecake.com/).
Oak Street Beach Café (5700 S. Cicero Ave.)
Oak Street Beach Café’s booth, like the booth belonging to Eli’s Cheesecake, is another booth that visually you cannot miss even if you wanted to. Decorated in a sun-and-surf style where Gidget and Moondoggie would not be entirely out of place, this vendor brings the beach to Grant Park with its appropriately surfer-approved options. Grilled shrimp skewers and the bourbon grilled chicken slider will have you desperate to join Elvis Presley in the cast of Blue Hawaii. (http://www.oakstreetbeach.com/).
Original Rainbow Cone (9233 S. Western Ave.)
If Eli’s Cheesecake is the namesake baked dessert of Taste of Chicago, Original Rainbow Cone is the namesake frozen dessert. Spumoni-like but oh so superior to the substandard icy dessert that Italian restaurants just love to push on its guests for $10 per tiny scoop, a Rainbow Taster Cup from the colorful cone-bedecked booth on South Columbus will be both refreshing and satisfying as temperatures rise over the weekend. (http://www.rainbowcone.com/).
SpritzBurger (3819 N. Broadway)
From the minds that brought you two much-loved Chicago restaurants and one of the city’s very best pastry chefs comes SpritzBurger, the Hearty Boys/Gale Gand collaboration that brings gourmet burgers and some truly craveable desserts to the Irving Park neighborhood. Curious parties can find this booth on Jackson Boulevard. This inventive restaurant makes its Taste of Chicago debut with some of its most “seriously, what?” offerings. The poutine burger, either in full size or tasting portion, is bound to make an absolute mess, but it’s completely worth it. (http://www.spritzburger.com/).
The Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St.)
Summer in Chicago is almost offensively incomplete without barbecue, and The Smoke Daddy makes sure that Taste of Chicago does not offend. The booth offers an array of traditional barbecue fare, with a long line of sauces that guests can choose from to adorn their meals. The Taste Of Portions of the pulled chicken sandwich will not disappoint with a little extra sauce, and the iron skillet cornbread will make any Southerner feel at home. (http://www.thesmokedaddy.com/).
Vee-Vee’s African Restaurant (6232 N. Broadway St.)
This year, Taste of Chicago will feature two booths and one food truck peddling jerk chicken, but Vee-Vee’s African Restaurant, located on the right in the direction of the lake on Jackson Boulevard, also provides a broader range of traditional African fare than guests can find at either Iyanze or the Jerk Food Truck. The red beans and rice with jerk chicken, although nothing like the favorite New Orleans Monday dish, is nevertheless flavorful, and the jollof rice with sauteed goat meat gives guests a chance to try a new and delicious protein. Festivalgoers looking for a little extra heat would do well to take advantage of the sriracha that Vee-Vee’s offers to adorn its delicacies. (http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurants/vee-vees-african-restaurant/).
A new participant in the 2014 Taste of Chicago, this unique food truck located on South Columbus, near the Bud Light Stage, offers an array of both meat-filled and vegetarian British delicacies. There are very few ways that anyone can eat chicken pot pie with a plastic fork while walking around Grant Park and not make a complete mess, but Bridgeport Pasty’s Chic-Pot-Pie Pasty is one of the most delicious ways. (http://bridgeportpasty.com/)
The Fat Shallot
A staple on the Chicago food truck scene, The Fat Shallot will move around a bit throughout Taste of Chicago. Thursday visitors can find it by Butler Field at the Petrillo Music Shell, while Friday and Sunday visitors can find it on South Columbus near the Bud Light Stage. The grilled cheese with caramelized onions and spinach is an excellent grown-up alternative to the childhood favorite. (http://thefatshallot.com/)