Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: Mario's Lemonade
Mario's can turn Italian Ice doubters around with one spoonful.
1068 W. Taylor Street, Chicago IL 60607 (map); 312-829-0672
The Short Order: Fruit-laden lemonade, part slushy and a perfect antidote to a hot day.
Want Fries with That? If you need a meal, check out Al's #1 Beef nextdoor and come here for dessert.
Want Ketchup? Neither place will have that red stuff.
For the past month or so I've been questioned, repeatedly, about when I'm going to write about Mario's Lemonade. The Chicago institution has been serving seatless customers for about sixty years. I had always planned to go but last weekend Daniel Zemans politely reminded me I better hurry. It closes in mid-September, which means--if you haven't already spent the summer sipping their cool product--you have less than a week. So go now!
I had avoided the place for a while because, frankly, I wasn't that interested. Sickly sweet "Italian ice" places litter the Midwestern landscape, and it never occurred to me that this one would be any different. But Mario's can turn doubters around with one spoonful.
Mario's sits literally in front of a townhouse on Taylor Street, just west of the Loop. It is also across the street from Al's #1 Beef (one of my absolute favorite Italian beefs in the city), and is even better when paired with that sandwich. Though they sell snowballs, I was there for the lemonade--all I had to choose was the flavor. I settled on the ultra-traditional lemon along with the watermelon and peach.
The lemonade looks an awful lot like a slushy except the ice crystals are minuscule, creating a much smoother sip. What's ultimately most surprising about Mario's--and what makes it so addicting--is the lemonade, only just barely sweet. What you mostly end up tasting are the wonderful little fruit hunks mixed in.
This makes the lemonade so much more refreshing. Each cup has its merits but something about the watermelon was strangely addictive.
The above little edge, which I used as a stand for photographing, amounts to the only space at Mario's Lemonade. No seats or counters necessary, though I did see some people sitting on the curb and the trunks of cars.
My only issue with Mario's, besides the fact that they aren't open all year long, is the inevitable brain freeze as you suck one of these down. It's a struggle. Why does your body turn on you like this? Doesn't it know it's a truly delicious creation meant for beating the heat, and that you only have a week left to eat as many as possible?