Taste of Chicago 2014: the good, the bad and the “eh”

Every year the city gears up for the Taste of Chicago, an outdoor food festival showcasing the diversity of Chicago’s dining community. Besides showcasing food from all corners of the city, the Taste is complemented by music and other activities for the entire family. It’s a beautiful celebration that has happened annually in Grant Park since 1980, and while it’s a bit of a tourist trap (to put it lightly), this was my first time living in the city AND being a major foodie so I knew I had to at least stop by.

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Zain and I arrived after work to a semi-crowded festival. That’s my first tip for Taste-goers: do not try to go on Saturday afternoon. I love food but I also love personal space and if you don’t want the person next to you breathing on your empanadas, go during the week.

Tickets aren’t cheap but they’re not absurdly priced either. They come in packs of 12 for $8.50, with “tastes” (or sample sizes) from each restaurant being anywhere from 3-5 tickets and meals being 6-10 or so. Zain and I each got two 12-packs and it ended up being the perfect amount.

We got a few “tastes” and a few star items, and left the festival feeling stuffed. We also heard AWOLNATION playing in the park next to the festival. That’s one of my favorite parts of Chicago – there’s no shortage of great entertainment, even when you’re just walking the street eating a turkey leg after work on a Wednesday.

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  • The Savoy – Grilled Shrimp Po Boy
  • Churro Factory – Funnel Cake with Strawberry Sauce
  • Manny’s Coffee Shop – BBQ Turkey Leg
  • Abbey Pub & Restaurant – Roasted Corn on the Cob
  • Mayan Sol Latin Grill – Empanadas Colombianas (chicken)
  • Brasserie by LM – Croque Monsieur Sandwich (Ham, Swiss, Bechamel, Dijon)

The Good: the grilled shrimp po boy, croque monsieur, and the corn on the cob

The Bad: empanadas (tasteless)

The Eh: bbq turkey leg and funnel cake (they smelled better than they tasted and not worth the $$)

What I wish I had tried:

  • Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs – chicken tenders and rib tips. The smell alone made me swoon.
  • The Savoy – crab cake. It was between the crab cake and the po boy so I went with what the girl working there said. I loved the po boy so I can only imagine how great the crab cake would be!
  • Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill – Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco OR the tamale

That’s the thing about the Taste – you can’t possible try it all in one day (unless you’re a competitive eater). I left feeling stuffed out of my mind even thoughΒ I’m sure if I sat down for a proper dinner I would have eaten more than I did here. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go twice to really try a lot of options. It wasn’t a steal, as we ended up spending $34 for all the food you see above, and it’s difficult to use exactly the number of tickets you buy. We ended up giving our two leftover tickets to a homeless man collecting extras because you can’t really buy anything with two tickets. I’m sure at the end of the day he had enough for a decently sized meal which was a good feeling. Overall, it was a gorgeous 75 degree day filled with food sampling, music and good company, so how could I complain?

We ended the night taking a walk through Millennium Park just as a jazz band started playing.Β I’ll tell you what…this city has its problems but it has some gorgeous parks and great free activities.

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Questions:

  • Does your city/town have a food festival like this?
  • Which of these items are you dying to try?
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25 comments

  1. I’m not sure if we have something like this or not, but I’m feeling compelled to check. It reminds me a little bit of the Fit Foodie event I participated in a few weeks ago though!

    I haven’t had a Croque Monsieur in FOREVER. They used to be my favorite sandwiches! The turkey leg I could definitely go without though. I’ve tried one before at the Ren Fest and I just ended up getting all angry at it after about 3 bites.

    1. The croque monsieur was my favorite! They’re SO good. I’ve actually gotten that exactly sandwich from the restaurant before but when I saw them at the Taste I knew I needed to relive the goodness. The turkey leg was honestly disgusting haha the bbq sauce made it smell good but I just kept seeing Zain take bites and there were sooo many bones. Not a fun eating experience for me. I know other people love them tho!

  2. Well, for what it’s worth, I got Robinson’s last year at Taste and was not particularly impressed, so I wouldn’t say you missed out on too much πŸ˜‰ I’m going to Taste sometime this weekend! I originally planned on going tomorrow, but my schedule got all mixed up over these past few days, so now I may try to make it down tonight — plus the forecast looks way better for today than tomorrow! I have NO clue what I want to get this year, though! But I’m definitely planning on making a stop by Rainbow Cone, if not for the whole thing, at least for a Taste cup πŸ™‚

    1. Ooo good to know about Robinson’s. I guess I’ll have to make the trek to Smoque eventually, even though it’s so far by CTA! The one great thing about going this weekend is all the food trucks–I missed out on those and I wish I had gotten to try them, especially Cheesie’s πŸ™‚ I hope you do a recap too because I’m always looking to hear if restaurants around the city are any good!

  3. I went to the Taste of St. Louis back in undergrad, and I left feeling like I spent a lot of money for not a lot of food. I think I would have done it for $17 each AND feeling stuffed when leaving. It was fun to walk around, but I prefer Restaurant Week personally! I’ll tell you what, though, this is making me even more excited to move to Chicago!

  4. I hate it when something smells so much better than it tastes….hello raisin bread. The turkey leg though…..that looks awesome! I went to the Sydney food and wine festival a while back but it was overrated!

  5. That is so nice you gave your tickets to a homeless man! I hope he got a meal. I love food festivals! We have a lot of good ones like Big Apple BBQ and Smorgasburg here. There are also a ton of great food trucks around in the summer. I would love to go to the Food and Wine Classic someday. Yum!

    1. Food and Wine classic sounds amazing! I just started drinking wine recently and I love it! And yeah, I’m hoping he collected lots of people’s leftover tickets and will have a weekend where he doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal will come from πŸ™‚

  6. You may like how I talk about food and get all excited but I love how you go to all the foodie events. YOu are also way nicer than I am .
    I would probably do harm to myself at a food festival, now that I think about it πŸ˜‰

    1. Hahaha trust me I always forget about the Taste but this year thank goodness someone reminded me πŸ™‚ I want to go to the Windy City Smokeout in river north tomorrow but I’m in the suburbs currently and am not sure if I’ll be able to get there. But you and Alex should go!

  7. Oh my gosh, funnel cake!! I haven’t had that in too many years.

    I really enjoy going to events like this, but like you said, if it’s insanely crowded it sucks a bit of the joy out of it, so I try to go at less crowded times as well.

  8. Wow this looks amazing! I would love it!

    That corn looks amazing – when food is that good sometimes simple is best!

    There is a festival like this down in London, I must go one day!

  9. i’m sure NYC must have something (or, like, a hundred someTHINGS) like this…i know there have been food fests, i’ve just never gone to one. we have a thing called Smorgusburg every weekend, too, which is like this — you go and sample all these places and eat yourself silly. i still have to get myself there this year.

    1. Haha I can’t believe it’s actually called Smorgusburg…that sounds fabulous. Although if Chicago was on the expensive side I can only imagine the NY “sample” prices. But good food is always worth it I guess πŸ™‚

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