Taste of Chicago 2013: Six must-taste items

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: mustard-fried catfish from BJ's Market & Bakery.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: chorizo empanada from Beat Kitchen.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: Italian eggplant from Ricobene's.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: tamale from Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to the Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: potato pancakes from Kasia's Deli.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: Original Rainbow Cone.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Taste of Chicago: Original Rainbow Cone.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

People flock to Taste of Chicago 2013, which runs through July 14 in Grant Park.

Kicking off today and running through Sunday, July 14, in Grant Park, the Taste of Chicago is all about sampling as much grub as possible. In addition to Chi-town classics such as deep dish and hot dogs, this year's Taste offers a nice cross-section of our city's ethnic cuisines. We showed up with empty stomachs, bought a bunch of tickets (admission is free, but food tickets are twelve for $8) and braved the first-day crowds in order to taste test the fest. Here are our top six can't-miss dishes from this year's Taste:

Mustard-fried catfish from BJ’s Market & Bakery, taste portion five tickets
These catfish nuggets are easily one of the more enjoyable nibbles at the festival, relying on their dynamic flavor rather than size or decadence like many of the items from other vendors. The mustard green in the batter adds a delicious flavor that makes up for the lack of salt or seasoning on the fish itself. The sauces on top of the nuggets give the fish even more flavor, making these well worth five tickets. 

Italian breaded eggplant from Ricobene’s on 26th Street, taste portion five tickets
This dish is a definite highlight. The hot, crispy eggplant is slathered in marinara sauce and placed on a slice of French bread. The eggplant is cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Though the marinara sauce causes the breading on the eggplant to become a tad soggy, the flavor of the sauce more than makes up for it. The sauce is perfectly seasoned, with Italian spices and just a hint of heat, and the proportion of eggplant to sauce is wonderfully balanced. The portion size is a nice surprise, too. For a taste portion (five tickets), this dish gives you bang for your buck.

Chorizo empanada from Beat Kitchen, taste portion five tickets
Like the Italian eggplant, this portion size is very large considering it's just a taste portion. Taste-goers can choose from three flavors: chicken, veggie or chorizo. The chorizo empanada is absolutely delicious, despite the fact that there's no discernible chorizo in the filling. It's smooth and creamy, made of beans, cheese and, presumably, chorizo. The filling is nice and spicy, just the way an empanada should be, though the spice isn't overwhelming if you can't handle the heat. The crust was a little dry, but it was only noticeable on the first and last bites, where there was less filling per bite. 

Handmade tamales wrapped in corn husk from Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill, four tickets
This husk-wrapped tamale is a solid option. Not life-changing, but the chicken inside is well-marinated and the tamale itself is moist and flavorful. The best part, however, is the portion. We got the whole tamale since the “taste portion” is only a half, but at four tickets, this is one of the cheaper (and more savory) meal options.

Potato pancakes with apple sauce or sour cream from Kasia’s Deli, eight tickets
The two potato pancakes served in the meal portion are large, greasy and heavy—we mean that in a good way. Less like traditional latkes and more like classic flour flapjacks, these pancakes are super thick and don’t have the characteristic shreds of potato or onion. Combined with the toppings of applesauce and sour cream, these are heavy enough to make you feel like you just ate brunch.

Rainbow Taste from Original Rainbow Cone, taste portion five tickets
After a morning of consuming salty—but delicious—foods, this small cup of ice cream is the perfect way to end the day. Though the portion size is on the small side (especially for five tickets), it's completely worth it. Five flavors of ice cream are stuffed into the premade cup: orange sherbet, pistachio, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts), strawberry and chocolate. Though five flavors at once might seem overwhelming, the best bites come when you get all five flavors at once. If you have enough tickets and aren’t stuffed to the point of explosion, go for the ten ticket Original Rainbow Cone waffle cone. 

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