It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time when I eat way too much and justify it by writing this review. It’s the Taste of Chicago.
This year’s fest, which runs through Sunday, July 12, features 33 five-day restaurants along with 12 pop-up restaurants and 15 food trucks. While the five-day restaurants remain the same for the length of the fest, the pop-ups and food trucks change based on the day
Food and drink tickets are sold in strips of 12 for $8.50 — each ticket is worth 50 cents and the additional $2.50 goes toward amenities such as bathrooms and security. Two strips of tickets (or 24 tickets total) is a good amount for dinner, while you could probably get away with just 12 tickets for lunch.
But what will you spend those precious tickets on? After two days of intensive research, I’m here to answer just that.
Alligator Smoked Sausage from Chicago’s Dog House (5 tickets)
My goal for this year’s Taste was to try unique, out-of-the-box items, so naturally my first purchase was alligator. The sausage was smoky and tender, but the “sweet” chili sauce on top was more spicy than sweet. That being said, it was a delicious combination and worth the tickets. Must try.
Pulled Pork Slider from Porkchop (5 tickets)
My second purchase didn’t exactly meet the “unique eats” criteria, but I can never pass up good barbeque. Since I mostly tried the “taste of” offerings from the booths I visited (smaller, cheaper options), this sandwich was the heartiest thing I had. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a cheap option that will fill you up, but it was just a run-of-the-mill pulled pork sandwich. Skip.
Kimcheesy Rice Balls from the Yum Dum truck (5 tickets)
These immediately caught my eye when I was perusing all the menu items online, and they met my high expectations. Although the mini fried rice balls were more kimchi-y than cheesy, there was an insanely high level of spice and flavor packed into such a small food. They were crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. It’s no wonder they sold out of these treats before the night was over. Must try.
35th Birthday Dipper from Eli’s Cheesecake (7 tickets)
This was the only full-sized food item I purchased during my two days at the Taste, but it was well worth the seven tickets. A frozen slice of birthday cake cheesecake, dipped in chocolate, covered in sprinkles and served on a stick — what more could you ask for? I had to exercise a lot of willpower to not get this again the second night I was there. (Added bonus: it makes for a super cool Instagram picture.) Must try.
Fresh Cut Fries with Cheese from Ricobene’s (5 tickets)
In a moment of weakness and hunger, I cheated on my “unique eats” criteria for the second time and got some cheese fries. Although I thought the portion was good and the fresh cut fries were perfectly cooked and seasoned, I would save your tickets for something you can’t get just about anywhere. Skip.
Fried Ravioli from Punky’s Pizza and Pasta (5 tickets)
In the great battle of toasted ravioli between Punky’s and Tuscany (which is just a few booths down the road), Punky’s is victorious. The ravioli wasn’t quite as crispy as I would have liked, but the cheese filling more than made up for it. I also liked that the marinara sauce was in a cup on the side for dunking instead of on top of the ravioli. Must try.
Papas Bravas from the Bruges Brothers truck (5 tickets)
After my first day at the Taste after, I saw a picture of the Papas Bravas on Instagram that solidified my desire to go back for a second day. Frites (French for french fries) are topped with chorizo (a spicy, Spanish sausage), smoky paprika-infused sauce and crispy jamon (bacon). The bells and whistles in the menu description lured me in, and I was happy with the portion size, but when it came to flavor the dish fell flat. Skip.
Churritos from the Churro Factory (5 tickets)
I’ve had churros from the Churro Factory before, so they don’t quite make my “unique eats” list, but they’re still delicious. You get four “mini” churritos for five tickets, which is probably a better deal than six tickets for one full-sized churro. These warm, cinnamon-coated, crispy fried dough sticks are a perfect substitute if you’re like me and don’t want to shell out 12 tickets for a funnel cake at the same booth. The only thing I longed for was a chocolate sauce to dip them in. Must try.
Mini S’mores Donuts from the Beavers Coffee + Donuts truck (5 tickets)
S’mores and I have a love-hate relationship (I want to love them, but I’m not a huge fan of marshmallows), but I had nothing but love for these doughnuts. The four mini doughnuts, covered in chocolate sauce, marshmallow sauce and graham cracker pieces, were not too dense or overly sweet. If they would have let me eat 35 of the little heaven circles without paying 35 more tickets (or judging me), I would have done so in a heartbeat. Must try.