6 Reasons Locals (Yes, Locals) Should Check Out The Taste of Chicago

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 8, 2016 5:34PM

It’s been a few years since we’ve visited the Taste of Chicago, but our memories are full of sweaty days and packed crowds. We stopped by the “world’s largest food festival” this week, and while it was still hot and crowded, it was also a lot of fun. Like, fun enough that Chance the Rapper stopped by. Here are our favorite reasons to visit the 36th annual Taste of Chicago, especially if you live here.

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Graham Elliot and MasterChef Junior winner Addison Smith (Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

1. Celebrity Chefs Abound

You know that fancy restaurant you keep meaning to try? Well, the chef is here and he’s preparing dinner for you next to Buckingham Fountain in the Celebrity Chef du Jour tent. A different celebrity chef hosts a multi-course, sit-down meal every day in the tent; tickets to the dinners are $45 a pop. Patrick Sheerin of Trenchermen, Nonnina’s Chris Macchia, and Abe Conlon of Fat Rice (which is having a big week!) will be cooking this weekend.

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Taste attendees fuel up with Firecakes Donuts (Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

2. Food Trucks Galore

This year, rotating food trucks will be stationed at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive and also at Columbus near Balbo. These roving restaurants will be serving up new menu items, too. Don’t miss sweet newcomers like InsideOut Cake by Auntie Vee’s and the Tahitian Vanilla Iced Donut at Firecakes.

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Eli's Cheesecake, looking good (Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

3. Free Cheesecake

On Saturday, Eli’s will be distributing complimentary slices of its iconic cheesecake while supplies last. They'll also be marking their 36th year at the Taste by cutting a giant (1,505 pound!) cheesecake at 12:30 p.m., also on Saturday. They claim to be the top selling dessert at the Taste, dishing out over 2 million slices. You only need to sample their slow-cultured cream cheese and sour cream to see why.

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Chance the Rapper performs at the Taste of Chicago Wednesday. (Photos by Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

4. Free Concerts

Watching free live music set against Chicago's skyline is one of summer's greatest pleasures, and the Taste offers plenty of it. The live shows were off to an electric start on Wednesday with performances by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Chance the Rapper and The Roots. This weekend, the Petrillo Music Shell will host The Decemberists, Billy Idol, and the Isley Brothers featuring Sheila E. A second stage at Columbus and Balbo will feature genre artists, and fest-goers can catch live jazz from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. daily at the E&J Gallo Winery Wine Garden.

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Photo by Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist

5. Foodie Podcasts Are Taping Live

Public radio personalities are often more familiar to us than our own neighbors, so we can’t wait to listen in as culinary podcasts record live. On Friday at 1 p.m., WBEZ’s Monica Eng will discuss the stories behind unique Chicago foods for Curious City. The Cooking Channel’s Dan Pashman then hosts the James Beard Award-nominated Sporkful podcast this Saturday at 1 p.m. On Sunday at 2 p.m., Hot Doug’s chef Dough Sohn rocks the mic.

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Bulgolgi at the Jin Ju pop-up (Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

6. Pop-Up Restaurants Are Sprouting Up Left And Right

If you the 30+ five-day restaurants at the Taste aren't enough for you, take advantage of the 11 pop-up eateries. Most only last a day or two, and they'll turn you onto new neighborhood restaurants as well as filling you up (our favorite, filling find on Wednesday: Jin Ju’s flavorful bulgolgi bowl). This weekend, you can look forward to "Kimcheesy fries" at Yum Dum on Saturday and Sunday, and a salted caramel chocolate cream puff at the Puffs of Doom's Friday pop-up.

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Photo by Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist

Pro Tips
- Avoid bringing a bag and skip the bag check lines.
- On the hunt for healthy tastes? Look for the green "H" symbol on menu boards signifying Humana Healthier Choices.
- Stroll the south end of the Taste to support local artisans in the ChicagoMade Marketplace.
- Visit the CH Distillery cocktail lounge for frozen concoctions, including the creamy, citrusy limoncello.

The Taste of Chicago runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, July 8 and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.