Slideshow: A Taste of the 2013 Taste of Chicago

Welcome to the Taste of Chicago!
Welcome to the Taste of Chicago!

Let's go eat. In fact, let's go eat a lot.

Ticket Madness
Ticket Madness

Go big or go home, as they say. You get 12 tickets for $8; 12 tickets gets you about three sampler bites (which are usually generous portions) while full entrees run anywhere from 8 tickets on up.

Chorizo Empanada from Beat Kitchen
Chorizo Empanada from Beat Kitchen

While most people know Beat Kitchen as venue for concerts and shows, they do also make the rounds at street fairs as well as the Taste of Chicago. This empanada is piping hot (don't burn yourself!), stuffed with chorizo, beans, and cheese, and for some flame, you can get some sriracha on the side. Oh, and it's mighty big, too, for a taste portion.

Jap Chae From Jin Ju
Jap Chae From Jin Ju

I grew up with jap chae, a chewy Korean sweet potato glass noodle dish, seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. This version is fairly stripped down to its essence with onion and carrot (I'm used to it being jam-packed with veggies and meat), but it still has the hallmark flavor of the beloved Korean dish.

Rabbit Corn Dog from Hearty
Rabbit Corn Dog from Hearty

Hearty, owned by the Hearty Boys (who run a catering business as well as Hearty restaurant), is one of the pop-up restaurants at the Taste of Chicago. This rabbit corn dog tastes like breakfast sausage, except with leaner meat, in a soft cornbread exterior. Make sure you keep that paper plate underneath the rabbit dog as you take a bite, or it'll flop off. Sorry, Peter Rabbit, we just had to eat you.

Bruschetta from Lou Malnati's
Bruschetta from Lou Malnati's

What's got two thumbs and gets the bruschetta from Lou Malnati's? This guy. Nothing special to see here, folks, aside from a buttery garlicky piece of bread covered in vinegary tomatoes tossed with more garlic. Not recommended for first dates if you plan on doing a lot of close-talking.

Gumbo from Riva Restaurant
Gumbo from Riva Restaurant

Riva is located at Navy Pier, and since I don't have an opportunity to visit there very often (okay, maybe I just avoid Navy Pier altogether), the curiosity of our group had to try the gumbo. It's got seafood flavor without any actual seafood that we could tell, and as you can see from the picture, it's more of a green onion soup more than anything else.

Pizza Balls from Bobak's
Pizza Balls from Bobak's

Prior to ordering these "pizza balls" from Bobak's, better known for their sausages here in Chicago, I had no idea what they were. They look like meatballs covered in red sauce, but they are not. And no, "pizza balls" is not a former college nickname of mine. Not one single person ordering these in line at the Bobak's booth could do it with a straight face, either. The next slide will give you more insight.

Pizza Ball Interior
Pizza Ball Interior

Well, my friends, this may actually top our Irish Egg Roll experience from last year: imagine if falafel and pizza got together, got drunk on Boone's Farm, and had a night of raucous regret, only to give birth to this thing later. Then not only do you have a great imagination, but you'll have an idea what these are like. They taste like pizza that's been chopped up in a food processor, compacted into balls, and then fried. Awesome.

Creepy Pig at Wishbone
Creepy Pig at Wishbone

This pig will literally haunt me for the rest of my life. I mean, look at it. I started crying shortly after.

Watermelon Lemonade Salad at Wishbone
Watermelon Lemonade Salad at Wishbone

If you're going to the Taste of Chicago on a hot summer day, this concoction is a total must. It's literally just a huge cup of watermelon swimming in very sweet lemonade, but it's cold, juicy, and, best of all, you can drink the juice. It's about as good a palate cleanser you can get between bouts of fried food.

Rainbow Waffle Cone from the Original Rainbow Cone
Rainbow Waffle Cone from the Original Rainbow Cone

We northsiders have it bad, since the Original Rainbow Cone is located all the way down in Beverly. I mean, come on, Rainbow Cone is awesome! Last year, the Serious Eats crew only partook in a taster, but that's a mistake. Bring a lot of friends, dig in, and make an atrocious mess. For you newbies, it's a pile of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla ice cream with cherry and walnut), pistachio, and orange sherbet drooping off a giant waffle cone. And damn, is it good.

The best part about this photo is that it isn't staged. This is actually what happened once we got the cone. The only reason my hand wasn't up in that business is because I was too busy documenting the fun.