Taste of Chicago 2012 | Food reviews

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  • #11: Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill, 300 W. 26th St.
    Fire Grilled Steak Taco; Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco; Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk
    "Taste of": Tequila-lime Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast Taco; 1/2 Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk
    We tried: 1/2 Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk, 3 tix
    HIT IT
    We liked the sauce options�everything from a mild pico de gallo to a creamy roasted red pepper (we picked the "medium," a green tomatillo salsa), which are detailed at the counter. The tamale was good�moist and flavorful, and we were relieved to see that it was wrapped in the traditional corn husk, rather than corn silk, which would've been gross. The "Taste" portion of a half a tamale was a reasonable three tickets, but what we really should've gotten was the whole tamale for just one ticket more. Learn from our mistake, friends.

  • #35: Lao Sze Chuan, 2172 S. Archer Ave.
    House Special Dry Ribs; Never Forget Chicken; Deep Fried Chinese Bread
    "Taste of": House Special Dry Ribs; Vegetarian Spring Roll
    We tried: Vegetarian Spring Roll, 3 tix
    HIT IT
    Okay, okay. This is your standard, greasy spring roll. But when it's crispy and flavorful, we�re fine with it. Better than fine, we like it. It�s a safe bet if you feel the need to try the ethnic cuisine but don�t want to brave the meat-filled waters.

  • #12: Kasia's Deli, 2101 W. Chicago Ave.
    Pierogi (Potato, Kraut, Beef, Potato Cheddar Jalape�o); Polish Sausage Sandwich w/ Sauteed Onions or Kraut; Chicken Kabob and Curry Rice w/ Vegetables
    "Taste of": Pierogi Potato; Potato Pancake w/ Apple Sauce or Sour Cream
    We tried: Potato Pancake, 5 tix
    HIT IT
    Pleasantly crunchy, though a few tasters found the flavor bland, and all agreed that the applesauce and sour cream were a needed addition. The portion was a good one for five tickets.

  • #29: Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western Ave.
    Original Rainbow on a Cake Cone-Chocolate, Strawberry, Palmer House, Pistachio, Orange Sherbert; Orginial Rainbow on a Waffle Cone; Cookie Dough or Cookies and Cream on a Cake/Waffle Cone
    "Taste of": Taster Cup of Original Rainbow Cone; Dream Cup-Vanilla & Orange Sherbert
    We tried: Dream Cup, 3 tix
    HIT IT
    The mammoth length of the line suggests most people don�t get a chance to frequent the Beverly home branch. For those out of the know, this is ORC, and it is very, very good. The dream cup is a nice introduction, but the cones are rainbow architectural wonders.

  • #7: Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St.
    BBQ Beef Sliders; Garlic Fries; Mac & Cheese Bites
    "Taste of": Mac & Cheese Bites; White Chicken Chili
    We tried: "Taste of" Mac and Cheese Bites, 5 tix
    HIT IT
    Filled with classic mac and cheese, these thumb-sized bites were just oozy enough to be delectable. The "taste of" portion consists of three small-ish bites, which in this case, is plenty satisfying: getting the full-sized helping would simply be cheese overload.

  • #5: Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace St.
    Fish and Chips; Roasted Corn on the Cob; Irish Egg Rolls
    "Taste of": Irish Egg Roll; Fries with Irish Curry
    We tried: Fries with Irish Curry, 5 tix
    SKIP IT
    Guys with Irish accents serving the food is a nice (if sometimes unintelligible) touch, but even that couldn't save these fries, which tasted like they had been left out for way too long. The curry sauce might have been good, but since it was splashed all over wan, soggy fries that lacked both crisp edges and flavor, it was hard to tell.

  • #37: Lyanze, 4623 N. Broadway St.
    Jerk Chicken w/ Red Rice & Beans and Plantain; Jollof w/ Oxtails; Bissup (Hibiscuss) Sorbet
    "Taste of": Jerk Chicken; Bissup (Hibiscuss) Sorbet
    We tried: Bissup, 3 tix
    SKIP IT
    I don�t think sorbet and snow cone are synonymous, but these folks seem to. This cup of flavor-drenched iced was simply OK. In the hot weather, it was a bit refreshing, but your tickets are better spent elsewhere.

  • #21: Oak Street Beach Cafe, 5700 S. Cicero Ave.
    Grilled Slipper Tail Lobster w/ Garlic Potatoes; Grilled Bourbon Style Chicken Wheat Wrap w/ Garlic Potatoes; Bourbon Chicken Nachos w/ Cheese Sauce & Jalapenos
    "Taste of": Grilled Bourbon Chicken Wrap; Garlic Potatoes
    We tried: Garlic Potatoes, 4 tix
    SKIP IT
    The first bite isn't bad�nice texture and a good level of garlic. But after that, you are stuck eating a plain, steaming potato in the Chicago sun.

  • #9: The Fudge Pot, 1532 N. Wells. St.
    Chocolate Frozen Banana: Milk or Dark; Chocolate Dipped Strawberry; Combination Plate: Frozen Banana, Fudge and Strawberry
    "Taste of": Fudge; Chocolate Frozen "Baby" Banana
    We tried: Chocolate Frozen "Baby" Banana, 5 tix
    SKIP IT
    Though we liked having the option of milk or dark chocolate, we didn't like the aftertaste of the chocolate that covered the basically tasteless 'naner center. There've got to be better frozen treats at the Taste than this.

  • #22 (Pop-Up): Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave.
    Two Chicken with Mole Empanadas; Two Veggie Empanadas; Two Chorizo with Frijoles Empanadas
    "Taste of": One Empanada; Tater Tots
    We tried: Portabella Empanada, 4 tix
    SKIP IT
    We took the plunge with this orange dough pocket after finding out it was vegan. Unfortunately for the reputation of vegan food, the dough was dry and tasteless and the filling was runny and overwhelming.

  • #33: O'Briens Restaurant, 1528 N. Wells St.
    Celtic Corn on the Cob; Corned Beef Sandwich; Black Angus Cheese Burger
    "Taste of": Sweet Potato Fries; Corned Beef Sandwich
    We tried: Corned Beef Sandwich, 5 tix
    HIT IT
    Our corned beef sandwich was served on rye bread and with spicy mustard. It was briny, beefy and surprisingly refreshing. It wasn�t what we were expecting, but that�s not always a bad thing.

  • #18: BJ's Market & Bakery, 8734 S. Stony Island Ave.
    Mustard-Fried Catfish; Chicken Tenders; Sweet Potato Chips
    "Taste of": Mustard-Fried Catfish; Peach Cobbler
    We tried: "Taste of" Mustard-Fried Catfish, 5 tix
    HIT IT
    The catfish itself was neutral in flavor, but BJ's compensated for that ordinariness with truly scrumptious mustard sauce and a good, crisp crust on the fish. We're still not sure what qualified the catfish as "mustard-fried," but when we added sauce to make it mustard-dipped, this was a definite winner.

  • #23 (Pop-Up): Jin Ju, 5203 N. Clark St.
    Bulgogi; Daeji Kalbi; Chap Chae
    "Taste of": Bulgogi; Chap Chae
    We tried: Bulgogi, 4 tix
    HIT IT
    The thinly sliced beef isn't the most tender cut we've ever tasted, but it's well-seasoned and the carrots, onions and peppers it's cooked with add tasty Korean flavor. It tastes like the Korean version of an Italian-beef sandwich (sans roll).

  • #2: Ricobenes on 26th, 252 W. 26th St.
    Italian Breaded Steak; Beef & Sausage Combo; Fresh Cut French Fries
    "Taste of": Italian Breaded Steak; Boneless Buffalo Chicken Wings
    We tried: "Taste of" Italian Breaded Steak, 5 tix
    HIT IT
    Ricobene's sign bills it as the "Place for Breaded Steak," so naturally, that's what we ordered. The "taste of" portion was well worth the five tickets it cost, especially since the breaded steak unexpectedly came covered in marinara sauce and served on a half-roll. This is saucy, classic heavy street food at its finest�greasy, but in a good way.

  • #10: The Noodle Vietnamese Restaurant, 2336 S. Wentworth Ave.
    Marinated Beef on a Stick; Crab Rangoon; Banh Mi Sandwich
    "Taste of": Marinated Beef on a Stick; Crab Rangoon
    We tried: "Taste of" Marinated Beef on a Stick, 4 tix
    HIT IT
    When we got over the heartbreak of finding that there was no taste portion of the banh mi�all while a woman behind the counter screamed "Only banh mi at the Taste! Only banh mi at the Taste!," rubbing salt in our wounds�we really liked the beef on a stick. In fact, this was a fest favorite for some of us. Marinated meats is something the Vietnamese do right, and here was a stellar example. The good-sized portion�a full bamboo skewer�was sweet and chewy-tender.

  • #27: Sabor Latino, 3810 W. North Ave.
    Puerto-Rican Steak & Onions w/ Rice & Pigeon Peas; Steak Jibarito; Pork Filled Banana Dumpling
    "Taste of": Steak Mini Jibarito; Coconut Ice
    We tried: Pork Filled Banana Dumpling, 4 tix
    SKIP IT
    While it looks like a fried tennis ball, the name made us curious. However, to our dismay, we could detect neither banana nor pork. We believe the item consisted of two components�crispy fried crust and mushy mystery.

  • #26: Polo Caf� and Catering, 3322 S. Morgan St.
    Garlic-Mozzarella Cheese Bread (2 pieces); Baked Crab Cake Nuggets (9 pieces); Assorted Pie (10'' whole in box)
    "Taste of": Garlic-Mozzarella Cheese Bread (1 piece); Assorted Pie Slice (whipped cream optional)
    We tried: Dutch apple pie; 5 tix
    HIT IT
    The apples are shockingly fresh, and the cinnamon goodness on top is decadent. The crust, meanwhile, hits that sweet spot right before too sweet. We finished every bite.

#11: Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill, 300 W. 26th St.
Fire Grilled Steak Taco; Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco; Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk
"Taste of": Tequila-lime Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast Taco; 1/2 Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk
We tried: 1/2 Tamale Wrapped in Corn Silk, 3 tix
HIT IT
We liked the sauce options�everything from a mild pico de gallo to a creamy roasted red pepper (we picked the "medium," a green tomatillo salsa), which are detailed at the counter. The tamale was good�moist and flavorful, and we were relieved to see that it was wrapped in the traditional corn husk, rather than corn silk, which would've been gross. The "Taste" portion of a half a tamale was a reasonable three tickets, but what we really should've gotten was the whole tamale for just one ticket more. Learn from our mistake, friends.


You know the drill—every year, pretty much the whole city of Chicago heads over to the Taste to consume as much food as humanly possible. Of course, in a festival as massive as the Taste, it's hard to know where to spend your money (or tickets, as the case may be). So we sifted through some of the booths for you, and here's our take on the best—and the worst—the Taste has to offer.


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