Chicken Satay at Rickshaw Republic ($6.00)
Rickshaw Republic proudly showcases Southeast Asian street food, and they serve up an impressive chicken satay. The char-grilled chicken is bathed in an addictive house-made peanut sauce that'll redefine your opinion of what peanut sauce should be. You get a sweet crisp cucumber salad on the side to refresh your palate after every bite.
Rickshaw Republic, 2312 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-697-4750
Kabob Platter at Noon-O-Kabab ($14.95 platter)
No food on a stick roundup would be complete without including at least one kabob, right? These stunningly delicious kabobs at Noon-O-Kabab are packed with spices and are cooked perfectly on a skewer, with just the right amount of char. The must-try sirloin koubideh is spongy, moist, and well-seasoned, and the lamb kabob is tender and slightly gamy.
Noon-O-Kabab, 4661 N Kedzie Ave #1, Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-279-9309
Banana Babies from Diana's Bananas ($2.50 per box)
Diana's Bananas is a local company that makes a yearly appearance at the Taste of Chicago. While there's no storefront for these, you can pick them up at a lot of local grocery stores (there's a locator on their website). These are frozen half-bananas dipped in either dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or a combination of chocolate and peanuts. They are sweet and hard-frozen at first, but as they warm up, they are easy to scarf down on a hot summer day.
Diana's Bananas, located at various grocery stores in Chicago (Store locator); 312-563-9732
Brownie on a Stick from Bittersweet Pastry Shop and Cafe ($2.00)
This ultra-sweet and ultra-rich brownie on a stick is definitely a guilty pleasure. This is a fudgy (not cake-like) brownie, dipped in dark chocolate as well as white chocolate to create an appealing presentation. It'll definitely crumble a bit as you're walking along, so make sure you've got your hand ready to catch the bits of chocolate shell.
Bittersweet Pastry Shop and Cafe, 1114 West Belmont Avenue #8 Chicago, IL 60657(map); 773-929-1100
Elotes from Street Carts ($2.25, price varies per stand)
Sadly, we don't have a lot of street carts roaming the streets of Chicago, not even hot dog carts, or anything. But what we do have are elotes carts, and if you're lucky enough to find one, you'll be rewarded with corn on the cob that's slathered with mayo, butter, crumbly Parmesan cheese, and chili powder. You can request for the corn to be sliced off and put into a cup instead, if you don't want to wear the entire thing on your face, but the stick is part of the fun. Elotes are definitely not a light snack and can nearly pass as a meal, but if you're feeling guilty, the carts usually also have cups of fruit dressed with lime juice and chili powder.
Road Rash Mary at Twisted Spoke ($8.00)
When you think of food on a stick, you don't ordinarily think of beverages, but the Road Rash Mary at Twisted Spoke on Ogden is served with a meal on a plastic spear. The horseradish-spiced tomato juice is garnished with shreds of Parmesan, and the skewer is loaded with an olive, huge pieces of salami, a pepperoncini, and a pickled pearl onion. You get a beerback as a sidecar, and for those of you who like to snack while you drink, well, you can do both in one fell swoop. This is definitely not a bad way to start a brunch.
Twisted Spoke, 501 North Ogden Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 312-666-1500
Robata Grill at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar ($3.00 - $6.50 per item)
The best part about food on a stick is that it's versatile, and at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, you've got a lot of choices if you want something charred on a skewer. The selection here is playful rather than strictly traditional. On the left is an enormous Prosciutto-wrapped scallop, topped with a sharp wasabi avocado puree and fried ginger, along with a sweet plum sauce. It's one of the top sellers on the menu. Pictured in back is the escolar special which isn't on the regular menu, but is almost always on the special menu due to its popularity. The oily and rich escolar (sometimes called super white tuna, even though it's not tuna) rests on a pile of densely flavorful shiitake mushrooms surrounded in a sweet miso butter (make sure you get a little of everything in each bite; it's a spectacular combination). And on the right? That's kangaroo. Yes, you read that correctly. It's dressed with lemon and lime zest, and the extremely lean meat is similar to lamb with a different, more peppery gaminess.
Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, 230 West Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-662-4888
Bincho Grilled Unagi at Slurping Turtle ($10.00)
Unagi is a customary summer food in Japan, and it's rich and oily while being unabashedly fishy in a terrific way. At Slurping Turtle, it's charred on the bincho grill and coated in a sweet soy barbecue sauce. It's not a huge serving, but with this much flavor, it's easy to understand why.
Slurping Turtle, 116 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-464-0466
Chicken Wings at Yusho
I love just about everything at Yusho, but I always make sure to leave room for the chicken wings. I usually like my wings fried, but these get a remarkably crisp skin from the grill, while remaining incredibly juicy. But the biggest surprise is that all of the bones have been removed, leaving you with a few incredibly tender and stress-free bites. All that's left is for you to dip them in a umami-packed bonito salt and dig in.
Lobster Dog at Grahamwich's Lollapalooza Stand ($10)
It's kind of wrong to pick a dish that you can only eat once a year, especially since you'll also need a ticket to Lollapalooza. But Grahamwich's Lobster Dog deserves to make the cut. As the most recognized dish from the music festival's Chow Town, they stand for everything that makes the food vendors here so interesting. Here's what I said about the lobster dog last year:
The batter is crispy and delicate, while the lobster pieces are juicy and sweet. A little paprika and fresh herbs are added, along with enough lemon aioli to lend each bite a bit of acidity and creaminess. Considering it's been on the menu for years, some might be over the lobster dog, but when something is this good, it deserves stick around.
Foie Gras Corn Dog at Bangers and Lace ($13.00)
"This elaborate corn dog wraps foie with French garlic sausage then brioche corn bread, so when you bite into it, liquefied foie spills out everywhere. It's amazing. It's even more delicious when you add sweetness from the brown butter caramel or fig preserves that are provided as dipping sauces. Read more here >>
Lamb Yakitori at Crazy Pot ($5.00 for 3 skewers)
"Crazy Pot serves some solid grilled skewers, including these very tender lamb ones. Marked with some nice char from the grill, the straightforward and assertive flavors are a nice balance to the crazy complexity of the hot pots." Read more here >>
The Dave Pound at Hot Doug's ($1.50)
"Hot Doug's sources their corn dogs from Vienna, but you'd think they dipped them right there. This corn dog is as basic as it gets—it's a a hot dog wrapped in batter and deep fried. The dog is beefy and there's just the right amount of sweetness from the corn to balance it out. It's the simplest option on the Hot Doug's menu, since it needs no extra toppings, but it was a staff favorite in our tasting last summer." Read more here >>
Beef Tsukune Slider at Sumi Robata Bar ($4.00)
"I know the Beef Tsukune Slider at Sumi Robata Bar looks small and manageable, but it's been a long time since I've encountered such full-throttled and unhinged snack. Traditionally, tsukane is like a Japanese meatball that is formed onto a skewer and (most likely) grilled. Usually the meat is chicken, but Sumi goes with beef, which the restaurant then cooks over its impressive bincho-fueled grill. The still skewered meat is then wrapped in a delicate steamed bun and smeared with miso mustard." Read more here >>
Grilled Lamb Skewer and Fish Ball Skewer at Lao Ma La ($2.00 each)
"Lao Ma La also knows its way around a charcoal grill. Skewers are available for $2 a piece, which isn't exactly cheap, but you could never call these dainty. The lamb was well charred, but still tender, while the fish balls were slightly crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. They were sprinkled with a chili mixture, which was spicy, yet still allowed you to appreciate the grilled items." Read more here >>