Taste of Chicago 2011 | What to hit, what to skip, plus photos

More than 40 tasting portions reviewed plus complete menus for every stand

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Banana Leaf Restaurant

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Taste of Chicago

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Banana Leaf Restaurant

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Garrett Popcorn Shop, Popcornsicle

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C'est Si Bon!, Cajun Meatballs

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Hashbrowns, Sweet Potato Hasbrowns

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Robinson's, BBQ Ribs

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Carb�n, Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco

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Tuscany, Italian Sausage Sandwich

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Tuscany, Italian Sausage Sandwich

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Eli's Cheescake Company, "Skinny Chocolate" Cheesecake

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C'est Ci Bon!

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Eli's Cheescake Factory

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The Noodle Vietnamese Cuisine

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

O'Briens, Celtic Corn on the Cob

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

O'Briens

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Franco's Ristorante, Italian Lemon Ice

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Adobo Grill, Cochinita Pibil Tacos

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Adobo Grill, Cochinita Pibil Tacos

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Lao Sze Chuan, Dry Chili Chicken

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Lao Sze Chuan, Dry Chili Chicken

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Free crush at Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Pegasus, Loukaneko

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Lagniappe-Creole Cajun Joynt, Chicken & Waffles

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Lagniappe-Creole Cajun Joynt, Chicken & Waffles

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Parrot Cage Restaurant, Red Velvet Cupcake

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Parrot Cage Restaurant, Red Velvet Cupcake

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen, Corned-Beef Brisket Sandwich

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen, Corned-Beef Brisket Sandwich

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

The Smoke Daddy, Pulled Pork

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Iyanze, Bissop Sorbet

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Iyanze, Bissop Sorbet

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Taste of Chicago

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Harolds Chicken, Fried Chicken Wing with Fried Green Beans

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

O'Briens, Gourmet Beef Hot Dog (Chicago Style)

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At the Taste

We came, we saw, we bought tickets and traded them for small paper plates of food. Day one of the Taste was a bit cooler than usual, just what we needed for running around several dozen stands to bring you TOC's hits and skips of the Taste 2011.

11 Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace St.
Roasted Corn on the Cob; Fish and Chips (Fries); Irish Egg Rolls
“Taste Of”: Fries with Curry; Irish Egg Rolls 
We tried: Fries with Poutin gravy, 4 tickets
Notes: This Irish pub (complete with a real Irish guy) is famous across multiple festivals for juicy grilled corn on the cob dripping with butter and sea salt—its bursting yellow kernels get stuck in the teeth of Taste-going tourists and music-festival hipsters alike. And after trying these soggy fries swimming in flavorless gravy (Fries with Poutin gravy, 4 tickets), I was jealous of all the suits gnawing on cobs around me. 
Verdict: SKIP (or get the cob with butter)

48 Adobo Grill, 1610 N. Wells St.
Guacamole and Chips; Pork Tacos; Chicken Tamale; Churros 
“Taste Of”: Cheese Empanada; Churro 
We tried: Cochinita pibil tacos, 10 tickets
Notes: The cochinita pibil tacos (two bulky tacos for ten tickets) looked great with their crown of pink pickled red onions. But in reality, the pork needed something. BYO salsa. 
Verdict: SKIP

16 *Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph St. 
Falafel Sandwich with Jerusalem Salad; Chicken Kabob Basket; Beef Shwarma Sandwich; Hummus 
“Taste Of”: Falafel with Hummus; Baklava 
We tried: Baklava, 4 tickets
Notes: Poor Alhambra was experiencing an electricity outage when we visited, so the options were limited. However, this mega-hunk of baklava (Baklava, 4 tickets) exceeded our expectations. Its flaky layers were not too sweet, not too syrupy and layered with fresh nutty goodness. The size is so generous two or three people can get a decent-sized bite out of one order.
Verdict: HIT

56 Arya Bhavan, 2508 W. Devon Ave.
Samosa; Chana Masala; Geera (Cumin) Rice; Bhel 
“Taste Of”: Samosa; Bhel 

10 Bacino’s Pizza of Lincoln Park, 2204 N. Lincoln Ave. 
Stuffed Spinach Pizza Slice; Stuffed Sausage Pizza Slice; Thin Crust Cheese Pizza Slice; Thin Crust Sausage Pizza Slice 
“Taste Of”: Stuffed Spinach Pizza Slice; Thin Crust Cheese Pizza Slice 

20 *Banana Leaf Restaurant, 1948 E. 79th St. 
Four Jerk Wings with Rice; Blackened Tilapia with Rice; Jerk Lamb Chop with Rice; Curry Vegetable Stir Fry 
“Taste Of”: Two Jerk Wings; Curry Vegetable Stir Fry 
We tried: Two Jerk Wings, 4 tickets
Notes: Two jerk wings (4 tickets) were hot off the grill and had a bit of char to balance their seasoning. We ate our wings to the bone. 
Verdict: HIT

17 *Beggars Pizza, 310 S. Clinton 
Thin Crust Cheese Pizza Slice; Thin Crust Sausage Pizza Slice; Thin Crust Pepperoni Pizza Slice; Deep Dish Sausage Pizza Slice 
“Taste Of”: Thin Crust Sausage or Pepperoni Pizza; Mostaciolli with Marinara Sauce 

8 Billy Goat Tavern & Grill, 1535 W. Madison Ave. 
Rib Eye Steak Sandwich; Double Cheeseburger; Single Cheeseburger 
“Taste Of”: Baked Potato Chips; 1/2 Cheeseburger 
We tried: 1/2 Cheeseburger , 4 tickets; potato chips, 2 tickets
Notes: Billy Goat's was by far the loudest booth in the area we reviewed. They were hawking their wares with an unmatched enthusiasm that was both delightful and enticing. After we heard them scream "cheeseburger" 50 times, we suddenly wanted to try a cheeseburger. How strange. For four tickets, you could taste its signature burger, and for measly two tickets you could get a bag of the regular potato chips. However, even though their salesmanship won us over, the one taste option, the half a cheeseburger we received (for four tickets!), was dry, the meat was thin, and the cheese was terrible. 
Verdict: SKIP.

31 BJ's Market & Bakery, 8734 S. Stony Island Ave. 
Mustard-Fried Catfish; BBQ Turkey Tips; Fish Taco; Sweet Potato Chips 
“Taste Of”: Mustard-Fried Catfish; Peach Cobbler 
We tried: Mustard-Fried Catfish, 4 tickets
Notes: We got three good-sized nuggets of catfish, crispy on the outside and moist and meaty on the inside. Served with a smile and a friendly recommendation that we try the delicious sweet-and-tangy honey-mustard sauce that sits in squeeze bottles on the counter, it was a favorite of our group, and easy to share.
Verdict: HIT

1 Bobak Sausage Company, 5275 S. Archer Ave.
Maxwell Polish Sausage; Beer Bratwurst Sausage; All Natural Chipotle Chicken Sausage; Ultimate Sausage Sampler Platter 
“Taste Of”: Mini Maxwell Street Polish Sausage; Mini Chipotle Chicken Sausage 
We tried: Mini Chipotle Chicken Sausage 
Notes: At Boback’s stand, we were warmly greeted by the manager who informed us about Boback’s prolific sausage skills. It had two small taste items, the mini chipotle chicken dog and the mini street Polish, each for four tickets. We got the mini chicken and it came drizzled in a lovely purple ribbon of sugary cranberry sauce. As the largest supplier of Polish sausage to the U.S. military, it made us feel oddly patriotic. If you like supporting the troops and eating sausage, then this is a no-brainer, people. 
Verdict: HIT.

21 Carbón, 300 W. 26th St. 
Fire-Grilled Steak Taco; Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco; Marinated Grilled Chicken Breast Taco; Sampler Platter (all four tacos) 
“Taste Of”: Fire Grilled Steak Taco; Fire Roasted Veggie Taco 
We tried: Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco, 5 tickets
Notes: We traded up from a tasting portion (chicken or roasted veg are available) to the tortilla encrusted tilapia taco (5 tickets) and found it worth the extra currency. The fish had a light, crispy tortilla crust that went well with the medium salsa verde. What we wouldn’t have given for a cold Pacifico to wash it down. 
Verdict: HIT.

25 C'est Si Bon!, 643 E. 47th St. 
Sweet Potato Cheesecake; Collard Green Egg Roll; Cajun Meatballs; Spicy Chicken Wingettes & Sweet Potato Biscuit 
“Taste Of”: Cajun Meatballs; Fresh Fruit Cup 
We tried: Cajun Meatballs, 4 tickets
Notes: We might have done better to order the famed Collard Green Egg Roll, but being conservative with our tickets we went for what seemed a no-brainer: a tasting portion of Cajun Meatballs, two to be exact. They’re reminiscent of an old Italian family recipe that no one is particularly protective of, but the Cajun spice bit was almost elusive—coming so late it felt more an aftertaste and afterthought. 
Verdict: SKIP.

19 *Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, 5569 N. Northwest Hwy. 
Atomic Cake; Eclairs; Sweets on a Stick; Parfait cup, Oreo 
“Taste Of”: Parfait cup, Oreo; Eclairs 

7 Chicago Joe's, 2256 W. Irving Park Rd. 
Popcorn Shrimp with Fries; Calamari with Fries; Jumbo Fried Shrimp with Fries; Cheesy Seasoned Fries 
“Taste Of”: Cheesy Seasoned Fries; Firehouse Chili 
We tried: Firehouse Chili tasting portion, 4 tickets
Notes: Chicago Joe’s was serving up some pretty decent-looking food. As we walked over, the smell of fried shrimp and fries washed over us, but it was the chili we were really after. We just had to try the chili that's rated No. 1 in Chicago. For four tickets, it was well worth it. Although this stall was really nothing special, and its food was pretty typical festival fare, it was solid and comforting.
Verdict: HIT.

15 Churro Factory, 2214 S. Wolcott Ave. 
Churros; Funnel Cake; Ice Cream; Frozen Bananas 
“Taste Of”: Churritos; Bunelos 
These four (adorable!) mini churros (Churritos, 4 tickets) covered in either chocolate or strawberry sauce were crisp on the outside, doughy on the inside and covered in cinnamon and sugar. They are perfect for sharing. Did we mention they are also super cute? Because they are.
Verdict: HIT

44 Connie's Pizza, 2373 S. Archer Ave. 
Deep Dish Cheese Pizza Slice; Deep Dish Sausage Pizza Slice; 10” Gluten Free Pizza Slice; Frozen Banana 
“Taste Of”: Mini Meatball Sandwich; Slice of Gluten Free Pizza 

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