CHICAGO - The 4th of July may be over, but another party starts Wednesday in Grant Park! The Taste of Chicago showcases some of the most delicious food the city has to offer.
The food festival runs through July 9. Gates opened 11 a.m. Wednesday. Admission is free.
From neighborhood restaurants to food trucks and everything in between, the Taste of Chicago is back. Now in its 37th year, the food fest brings back all the tried and true favorites, but includes quite a few surprises as well.
"When I came here, I never expected to see anything like that," said Jonathan Leong.
After all, it is not just anywhere you can get an order of oxtail fries.
"Oxtail, yeah. It's kind of like stew on top of the French fries. It's real flavorful," Leong said.
The doors opened Wednesday at 11 a.m. After a quick bag check, folks were in and ready to eat. The regulars were ready with a plan in place to check out all the hot spots.
"We come in every year. First day. First thing in the morning when it's not crowded," said Laura Bolden.
"I'm looking for the taste of all things. Everywhere I go, I'm looking for the taste and keep moving," said Paulette Reese.
For the foodies out there, there is just so much to choose from. The sautéed goat at Vee-Vee's African Restaurant is a definite highlight and at Chicago's Dog House, they're serving up a lot more than just plain hot dogs. Alligator sausage anyone?
"They're delicious. They're sweet. They have kind of like a barbecue sauce, barbecue feel with caramelized onions," said Michelle Pirowski.
And of course, after all that, dessert is required. You've heard of deep fried Twinkies, well, how about deep fried Oreos?
"It's almost like a doughnut and an Oreo had a baby. And how could you pass that up?" said Bobby Phillips of Punky's Pizza & Pasta.
And it's not just all food. For those needing a break from all the deliciousness and maybe a little bit of shade, 19 of the city's dance companies are performing in a tent just south of Buckingham Fountain.
"People come downtown to see the Art Institute or the Symphony which is great, but we want to bring some rhythm to the program," said Lane Alexander of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project.
Musical performers at this year's Taste include Alessia Cara, Café Tacvba, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Passion Pit and The O'Jays.
For a full schedule and list of vendors, click here.
HUNGRY HOUND SAMPLES TASTE OF CHICAGO
Hungry Hound takes bite of Taste of Chicago
The Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky took a look at the new food options at the Taste this year.
The staff of Chicago Lawn's Garifuna Flava sure aren't shy about their best-selling product.
The jerk chicken is aggressively seasoned, but so are the panades, corn patties stuffed with fish. Garifuna is a pop-up here for just two days, but owner Rhodel Castillo says it's a huge marketing opportunity.
"Customers who've tasted our food here have come to Chicago Lawn, which is quite out of the beaten path, but they found their way to our location which is exciting to us," Castillo said.
Adults over 21 have a couple of liquid options this year, not just a wine tent but a CH Distillery cocktail lounge pouring tropical drinks.
Hungry Hound's best eats at Taste of Chicago
The Buffalo chicken tamale with blue cheese dressing from Dia De Los Tamales is almost as popular as the Cuban pork version, draped in a warm tomato garlic sauce. The Pilsen storefront sinks a ton of human capital into these next five days, but apparently it's worth it.
"We definitely get more business at the shop from the Taste of Chicago than we do from any other event that we participate in," said Jeni Wahl of Dia De Los Tamales.
Paul Fehribach is getting ready to serve 150 people a four-course dinner Wednesday night. The chef and owner of critically-acclaimed Big Jones in Andersonville has a team of Washburne Culinary students working beneath him.
"They want to get into this business that's really challenging and they need an opportunity to work with the kind of ingredients that we're working with today," Fehribach said. "So it's a really good experience for them and I might need somebody who'll turn into a really good chef someday."
Jin Jun, a Korean restaurant in Andersonville, is at the Taste as a pop-up this year for one day.
"Today, we have bulgogi, which is like a thinly-sliced ribeye sautéed with some vegetables, kalbi, which is a beef short rib, this is brand new this year, and we did what the call like the LA-style on the bone, and then we have chap chae at our stand and then we have kimchi of course," said Agnes Hong of Jin Jun.
The Hungry Hound samples the Taste of Chicago
Steve recommends doing a lap around the Taste and looking at the taste portions and also to think in terms of appetizer, then entree and finally dessert, finishing with an Italian ice or a Rainbow Cone.
Mary Slowik, manager of Taste of Chicago, explained to the Hungry Hound that there is more than food at this year's Taste.
"We've got a lot of new cultural elements this year. We have got a street art and graffiti alley a little bit further north of where we are right now where four street artists will be painting all day long each of the five days of the Taste," Slowik said.
There will also be a dance troupes and a "March of the Puppets" every day at 3 p.m.