If you've never visited the Maxwell Street Market before, know that it's perfectly normal to be absolutely, completely overwhelmed. Whether it's the crowds, the dozens of stands selling everything from power tools to old Nintendo games, or the heat radiating off the asphalt, it's a sensory overload. Where do you begin? The only way I've found to make sense of the market is to start eating. Follow your nose: to attract customers, these stands go the extra mile, making tortillas from scratch, grilling meat to order, and offering all kinds of delicious dishes normally not found in taquerias. It all adds up to the highest concentration of great Mexican food in the city.
Though the basics are covered (exceptionally well, I might add) my favorite part of the market is the chance to try dishes that I can't easily find around town. While I'll eventually get to finding the best tacos (oh my, is the al pastor good), I decided to focus this trip on the non-taco options. I had no trouble finding them.
Of course, it's impossible to understand Maxwell Street Market in one day. Each stand has more food than one person could hope to enjoy in one go. Instead, I relied on a few sources, especially David Hammond's excellent article for Greater Midwest Foodways. But I also stopped if something simply smelled good, or if I saw someone walking with a dish I wanted to try. In the end, I walked away with 11 great non-taco dishes you can find at the Maxwell Street Market. Since I was limited by the fact that I couldn't eat everything, I'm sure there are dozens of other options. Let me know if I missed any along the way.
Flor de Calabaza Quesadilla at Taqueria la Flor de Mexico
Chicken Tamales with Salsa Rojo at Tamales Oaxaqueños
Huitlacoche Quesadilla at Rubi's
Barbacoa Huarache at Arroyos Tacos
Consome de Birria at Tacos D.F.
Enchiladas Verdes (Con Carne) at Manolo's
Pupusas with Cheese and Beans at Pupusas y Tamales Mama Lula
Churros at Xoco-Churro
Elote at Birrieria Calvillo
Pambazo with Chorizo and Potatoes at The Green House
Mango Ice at Nieves Bange's
Maxwell Street Market
800 S Desplaines St., Chicago, IL 60607 (map)