Welcome to the Taste of Chicago!
Let's go eat. In fact, let's go eat a lot.
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
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.
Bhel Puri from Bombay Spice Grill & Wine
Bhel Puri is a fun Indian street food that I like to think of as kind of like Chex Mix, except with fresh condiments tossed in. It's a mix of puffed rice and chickpea squiggles, with a blend of fresh veggies, tamarind, and a lot of spices. It's one of the lighter items (read: not deep fried on a stick) at the Taste, and it's packed with flavor.
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
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
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.
Chicken Skewer with Hot Pot Sauce from Lao Ma La Chinese
People know Lao Ma La as being a restaurant that slings some pretty spicy dishes, but the skewer isn't quite as hot as you'd imagine—perhaps it's toned down for the crowds. It is, however, flavorful in a Szechuan peppercorn sort of way. The booth also serves vegetable, beef, and whole shrimp skewers too. Good times, good times.
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
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
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.
Fried Cheesecake from Tutto Italiano
Fried cheesecake pretty much embodies everything good and bad at the Taste of Chicago. On one hand, you've got fried cheesecake. On the other hand, you've got, well, fried cheesecake. This cheesecake is wrapped in a chewy pastry dough, dropped in the happy-fun-time fryer, and comes out sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It's like a combination of an elephant ear and cheesecake (the filling gets a bit grainy). And you know they're serious about this thing when they only serve full orders of it—no wimpy tasting portions here, buddy. No sir.
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
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
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.