The tastiest of all summer festivals has finally descended upon Grant Park — The Taste of Chicago 2014 is here with all of its fried, baked, broiled, boiled and grilled goodness.
This year’s fest, which runs through July 13, features 66 five-day restaurants, four pop-up restaurants and 10 food trucks. The 66 restaurants are staples for the fest, while the pop-up restaurants and food trucks change based on the day.
Entry to the foodie’s paradise is free, but all food and drinks are purchased with tickets. One strip of 12 tickets costs $8.50 (the tickets are worth 50 cents each, and there is a $2.50 charge for other Taste amenities). Two strips of tickets per person is the perfect amount for dinner, especially if you want to get a drink. “Taste of” portions of foods cost three to five tickets, while full size portions cost about eight to 16. If you’re going just for lunch, you might be able to get away with just using one strip.
Whether it’s your first or 50th time at this summer classic, it can be an overwhelming experience. But fear not, because Managing Editor Ashley Iannantone and Photography Editor Ellen Bauch expertly braved the first day of the fest and ate far too much food in order to let you know what’s worth spending your precious tickets on and what’s not.
Ashley’s Taste Haul:
Crab Cake from The Savory
After walking around for probably 15 minutes and saying I wasn’t ready to commit to any dish yet, I handed over four tickets for the “taste of” crab cake. I enjoy crab cakes a lot, but they’re so expensive and there aren’t many places that make them really well. This one was flavorful and fresh and I liked the slaw and sauce on the side, but the size was not worth four tickets. Skip this one and save your tickets unless you are a die-hard crab cake fan. Skip.
Cheese Pizza from Lou Malnati’s
This was a given for me, even at the five-ticket price for the “taste of” portion. I go to the Taste, I eat a small slice of deep dish pizza. Do as I say and not as I do: Try things you wouldn’t normally eat while at the Taste. Skip.
Steak and Cheese Sandwich from the Gino’s Steaks Truck
This was one of the best bargains for a “taste of” portion I had. For five tickets, you get shredded steak and melted cheddar cheese on fluffy bread — what more could you want? The full size portion must have been huge, but the “taste of” portion would make a satisfying lunch. Must try.
Classic American Burger from the Windy City Patty Wagon truck
This was probably my favorite thing I tried and it was a steal for five tickets. The food trucks were really the biggest stars at the Taste this year. The lines were long, the food was coming out fast and they seemed to be offering bigger portions than the restaurant booths. My mini “taste of” burger wasn’t actually that mini. It was about the size of a typical slider, but the meat was thicker so I didn’t feel like I was being jipped at all, and the quality of the other ingredients (lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, cheese) was great. Must try.
Irish Egg Roll from Abbey Pub and Restaurant
Abbey Pub and Restaurant has been at the Taste for years now, and with my last five tickets in hand I decided I should give their “taste of” Irish Egg Roll a try. You actually get a full, huge egg roll stuffed with corned beef, cabbage and mozzarella cheese. I burnt my mouth trying to eat it for the first five minutes, but after I got past that it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t care for the mustard dipping sauce and would’ve liked a little more meat, but it was a unique dish that I’m glad I tried. Skip.
Ellen’s Taste Haul:
Toasted Ravioli from Tuscany
There was no overthinking my first selection of the day, as I have a history of never turning down any sort of cheese-stuffed dish. I picked the “taste of” toasted ravioli for five tickets and I was not disappointed. Though they were scalding hot and I had to wait several minutes before diving in, the four ravioli hit the spot with the crispy outside, marinara sauce and just the right amount of melted cheese on the inside. Must try.
Sweet Potato Fries from O’Brien’s Restaurant
Easily my biggest bargain of the day, the sweet potato fries were only three tickets and could probably pass for a “medium” size at most fast food joints. They were super crispy without being too dry, and they were some of the most flavorful sweet potato fries I’ve had (which is saying a lot, as I’m a huge sweet potato fries junkie). Must try.
Mini Beef Taco with Slaw Topping and Salsa from Taquero Fusion
My first and only stop at a food truck was at Taquero Fusion, which prides itself on its “tacos with a Latin twist.” I ordered a mini beef taco (they also had chicken and pork) which came with slaw and salsa. For five tickets, I was pleasantly surprised that I was given two corn tortilla shells, and enough toppings to fill them both, so my mini taco turned into two mini tacos. The beef was mild and tender, but the slaw and salsa added a nice spicy kick. Must try.
Churritos from Xocoatl Churro Factory
After curbing my urge to spend nearly half of my tickets on a funnel cake, I decided to satisfy my craving for a fried dessert by purchasing churritos (the mini version of the Spanish fried dough favorite) for five tickets. It proved to be a solid decision, as I received four generously sized mini churros. They were warm, sweet, and fried to perfection. I may or may have not licked the remaining cinnamon sugar off of my fingers after eating my last one. Must try.
Milk Chocolate Baby Banana from The Fudge Pot
For only three tickets, I had to try the mini frozen chocolate-covered banana from The Fudge Pot. It was about two-thirds of a regular banana, and upon ordering I was given the option of either milk or dark chocolate. My sweet tooth opted for milk chocolate. It was served on a stick and was tasty, but it seemed like something I could easily concoct at home. It was also difficult to eat without making a fool of myself, as every bite led to more chocolate falling off and hitting the ground. Skip.
1/2 Tamale from Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill
With three tickets left, I led Ashley on an expedition to find another “taste of” dish I could afford. After waiting in line for an empanada at a booth only to discover they ran out, we eventually came across Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill. They had 1/2 tamales for three tickets, so I was sold. Although I very clumsily dropped about a third of my tamale on the ground, I was satisfied with what I was able to actually eat. It was a little bland by itself, but when paired with the mild salsa, it was much better. Skip.