A Girl’s Gotta Eat – The Taste of Chicago

The very first Taste of Chicago kicked off on July 4, 1980 on a blocked off section of Michigan Avenue.  Organizers anticipated 100,000 attendees but over 250,000 showed up.  The event moved to Grant Park the following year and became one of the world’s largest food festivals.  Additional changes were made in 2012 when organizers shortened the event from 10 days down to 5.  It also moved the event dates away from the July 4th weekend.

This year’s event runs from July 11-15 in Grant Park.  Wednesday – Friday hours are 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and then Saturday – Sunday hours are 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.  Admission is FREE but then you have to purchase tickets for food and beverages.  A strip of 14 tickets will run you $10.  You can purchase these online prior to the event (and pick them up at will call I am assuming), however, you are limited to only 2 strips per purchase this way.  And you will be hit with an additional $3.00 amenities surcharge.  Per strip.  And let me tell you, 14 tickets will not get you very far.  Here is what you should expect to spend, according to their website:

Plan Your Purchase:
“Taste of” Food Portions: 5-6 tickets
Full Food Portions:10-12 tickets
Soda/Water: 7-8 tickets
Beer: 11-14 tickets
Wine/Cocktails: 10-14 tickets

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This year over 80 eateries will be participating.  Some of these will be restaurants that are set up for all 5 days.  Some will be food trucks.  And some will be pop-ups that will only be there for one or two nights.  The Taste’s website has a great list of who will be there and what they will be serving.  It also tells you who will be in the rotating pop-up stands on each night.

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Beverages were available in all forms as well.  Goose Island, CH Distillery, and Stella Rosa all had their own tented lounge areas, but you could get other beer, wine, and cocktails at bar stands scattered throughout the festival.

Beverages

Apparently, there is entertainment as well.  I was only there for the food.  Music and cooking demonstrations are taking place all day.  You can see the full schedule here.

But let’s talk about the food.  Like the food truck festivals, this event is better with a group so you can try a variety of foods.  There were many Chicago staples there such as Lou Malnati’s pizza and the Billy Goat Tavern.  We are big fans of trying new things so here are some of the things we tasted:

Jerk Chicken with red beans and rice from Vee Vee’s African Restaurant:

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Mango Beef Salad from Arun’s:

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Snake Bites from Chicago’s Dog House:

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Five Spice Szechuan chicken from Lao Sze Chuan

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Cheddar Bacon Bun from Buscia’s Bacon Buns

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Italian Beef & Giardiniera Grilled Cheese from Doom Street Eats

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And then we finished strong with dessert.  The first was a Funnel Cake Sundae from Churro Factory – Xurro:

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And then some of us opted for something a little lighter with a scoop of Mango Ice Cream from Star of Siam:

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Parking is always an issue downtown, but you can get a discount at the millennium garages if you pre-purchase them online.

So, plan a day downtown during the fest and pop in and out for lunch, dinner, and dessert.  There is so much to choose from!

tastemap2019

Chicago Food Truck Festival

(Not from Chicago?  Don’t want to have to drive into the city?  Google “Food Truck festivals near me”)

Mark your calendars for next year.  The Chicago Food Truck Festival only comes around once a year.  It usually takes place the weekend after Father’s Day and is a two-day festival of food (and some drinks).  This is the second time I have attended, and much has changed from two years ago.

First, let’s start with the good stuff.  Well, it’s all good when food is involved, but one of the best things about this food truck event is the fact that the tickets are FREE.  Free, people.  Free.  When you “purchase” them, it automatically gets you entrance for both days, however, you can only use them for one of the days, not both.  Which is great, because then you can wait to see what the weather will be like.

Another goodie is the free parking.  In Chicago.  How often does that gem pop up?  Granted, we got there right when it opened at 11:00 am, so I cannot vouch for any available spots in those lots any time after that.  But is does exist at some point.

The location was also different this year than it was two years ago.  And, it changed at the last minute this year because they had more trucks sign up.  Which was another bonus from two years ago.  More dining options (see list of vendors below):

Food Truck List collage

I suggested we do a lap first and see what was available and then start digging in.  That didn’t last long.  Too many enticing smells.  We started with a truck called The Fat Shallot.  Their selection sounded interesting.

Fat Shallot collage

We ordered the Truffle BLT and the Spicy Sesame Fries.  Pro Tip:  go with one or more couples.  This way you can order lots of different foods and only have a bite or two.  You also won’t fill up after the first truck.

Fat Shallot 2

Our second stop was the Pierogi Wagon.  Being the good polish girl that I am, I had to get the 6 for $8.95 and do a mix and match with two of each flavor.  We also got a side of sour cream and chopped bacon.  Yum!

Pierogi Wagon collage

The next stop on this culinary tour was the Happy Lobster truck.  I liked their Happy Lobster Roll so much the first time I tried it two years ago that I had to have another one this year.

Happy Lobster collage

Stop number four was at the Taste of International.  This was more of a food stand than a truck, but who am I to tell them they can’t be there?  I am not a fan of curry, but our friends are and wanted to try the curry chicken.  They were cooking it up right there in front of you and I will say it did smell delicious.

Taste of International Curry

Stop number five almost caused a complete break in our couples’ friendship that day.  First, the husband of the couple wanted to stop at a hot dog truck (Hot Dog Fiend).  Pretty basic when you have 40+ new things to try.  Granted, they offered some great combinations to at least make the hot dog interesting.

Hot Dog Fiend collage

But then . . . he did this:

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Ketchup!  Just.  Ketchup.  He’s lucky we have been friends for almost 20 years, or this could have ended a lot differently.

Final stop, and one very full stomach later, was dessert.  Stations by Decadent Flavor offered up mini donuts with sugar/spice toppings.  My SO and I got the small bag with half pumpkin spice (him) and half salted caramel (me).  So good.

Decadent Flavor collage

As I mentioned previously, there were over 40 food trucks/sponsor tents there that day.  There is no way we could hit all of them.  As much as we wanted to.

Beverage options were also available.  There was a beer/sangria/water tent right when you walked in.  You had to buy tickets for these.  You could pre-purchase these online before you go.  A VIP upgrade was available that included early admission and drink tickets.  There was also a pretty cool looking old-fashioned soda pop truck.

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And then there was this:

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A cored pineapple with the insides pureed like a slushie.  Topped with a skewer of gummies and fruit roll-ups.  With a generous sprinkling of Nerds candies.  And yes, alcoholic versions were available.

Some tables/chairs were available, but the event organizers recommend bringing your own.  You should also bring your appetite.  Happy Eating!

Jazzin’ at the Shedd

On Wednesdays in the summer, the Shedd Aquarium hosts an event called “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” and it is just what it sounds like.  A jazz band performs while you explore the many levels of the aquarium.  When the weather cooperates, these bands play outside on the terrace.  Thanks to the rain that never ends in 2019, we had to experience the music indoors.

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The John G. Shedd Aquarium opened its doors to the public on May 30, 1930.  It operates as an aquarium and museum of aquatic life.  It provides educational services to the public and conducts scientific research to further support and protect marine wildlife.  It is hard to find someone who has lived in Chicago (or its suburbs) and has not visited the Shedd Aquarium at some point in their lives.  Along with the Planetarium and the Field Museum, the Aquarium is part of what is now known as the “museum campus”.

From 5:00 – 10:00 pm on these select dates, the museum is closed to the public for this private event.  For the price of admission ($20 for Chicago residents, $25 for Non-residents, Free to Members), guests have access to the full aquarium as well as the live music playing that night.  The Jazzin’ season will run through August and a list of performers can be found here.

With this being a special event, and a weeknight, the aquarium was not crowded.  At all.  We were able to get right up to the glass at each exhibit without waiting.

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The five-hour admission is more of an “open house” format.  Come late, leave early.  Whatever works with your schedule.  A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Food and drinks are served, however, they are an additional cost to the night.

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  • Some exhibits close early. We decided to eat at a restaurant instead of the event.  Due to our late arrival, we missed the chance to visit the Oceanarium (it closed at 7:45 pm).
  • Another bonus that comes with admission is that you can view the Wednesday night Navy Pier fireworks from the terrace. For an additional $20, you can even reserve a spot on a Shoreline cruise to get you even closer to the display.

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I have made many trips here with my kids that it was nice to explore the marine life on my own.  Additionally, there were very few children present that night.  This is not advertised as an “adults only” event but only a handful of couples brought their kids.  Not that I have anything against kids, but aren’t “date nights” and excuse to get away from your own for a few hours?

Sometimes date-nights can be on a weeknight.  Break up your week with a little Jazz and an ocean of fish!

Baseball – Chicago White Sox

Chicago is a big sports town.  It is big enough to produce two Major League baseball teams.  And, while some look at it as a rivalry, I choose to believe there is enough love in this great city to support two teams.  I know there are haters on both sides, but I am not one of them.  We were invited to a game last season and happily accepted as we are both always up for attending a sporting event.

The original ballpark was built in 1910 and served as the home of the White Sox through 1990.  The new Comiskey Park was built right across the street from the old one.  As a matter of fact, the home plate from the original building can still be found in one of the parking lots.  True Sox fans know where this is, and it didn’t take me long to find someone with a picture to use here.  (Photo credit: Sandy McDaniel)

home plate

home plate 2

The ballpark was renamed US Cellular Field in 2003 and is now known as Guaranteed Rate Field.  Aside from the original home plate, there are many tributes around the park for you to explore.  At the main entrance you will find a bronze and granite sculpture that celebrates the 2005 World Series Championship.  You can also find sculptures around the inside of the park dedicated to Minnie Minoso, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, and Paul Konerko.  There is also a special plaque dedicated to Jim Thome and his record-setting home runs in the 2008 season.

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While the north side team has more of a block party atmosphere, Comiskey Park (yes, I will always think of it as Comiskey Park) has a tailgate atmosphere.  There are multiple parking lots and Sox fans come out early and ready to party.  I have always liked the tailgate scene with people sharing food, drinks, and playing bags.

This is a great stadium to watch a game in.  It is very modern and comfortable.  I didn’t look into the variety of food they serve because I am a pretty basic baseball fan.  I need a hot dog and a beer.  And a good view.

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The White Sox offer many promotional dates on their schedule every year.  They have the usual “give-away” nights that include t-shirts, hats, and bobbleheads.  Additionally, they have $1.00 hot dog Wednesdays, post-game fireworks nights, music nights, and dog days (bring your dog to the game).  We happened to go to a game on Chicago Blackhawks night.  Alex DeBrincat threw out the first pitch.

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One of their more popular promotions is “Family Sundays”.  Twelve Sunday home games in the 2019 season will have tickets as low as $5.00 (upper level) and parking for only $10.00.  This is a cheap way to see the game, however, if you are looking for a date night away from your own kids (don’t be shy, we all need them now and again), this is not the deal for you.

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the White Sox main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon or Goldstar and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time.

We saw a great game, even though it was not a winning game.  We did, however, get see a Sox player hit a home run and, with that, came some fireworks.  Baseball is America’s pastime – get out and enjoy a game on the South Side!

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Urban Adventure Quest – Chicago

Urban Adventure Quest is a scavenger-hunt using your smartphone.  But it is not your typical “find this item” type of pursuit.  That was my biggest concern before trying it out in Chicago.  I did not want to walk around the city just looking for the “most photographed sculpture shaped like a bean”.  Ok, that was on the “find” list, but at least the challenge that accompanied it made it interesting.

Anyway, as I explained above, this is an app that you download onto your phone.  The cost is $49/city hunt but, you can get it for a discounted price with a Groupon (of course) promotion code.  The game allows you to input anywhere from 2 to 5 team member names.  It gives you a specific starting location and, once you are there, you hit the “start” button that will take you to the first puzzle.  Here is what that puzzle looks like (and the only one I will be sharing with you):

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Two things I will recommend to you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. This walking tour/adventure will take you 2-3 hours.
  • Bring a pen and piece of paper. We ignored this suggestion and regretted it.

The challenges/puzzles ranged from super easy to difficult.  The pen and paper will come in handy for a couple of different puzzles.  For one of them, you have to create a word find using words from a famous quote and then solve a riddle from it.  There is another challenge that requires you to fill in artists names in a blank crossword puzzle.

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At Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, once the challenge was complete it was optional to take a selfie in front of this very famous sculpture.  Here is my incredibly cooperative family contribution:

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What I appreciated about doing this in my own city was that we found things that we had no idea existed.  The quest showed us that there are some really cool stones embedded in the façade of the Chicago Tribune tower.  According to this article by Chicago Architecture, there are 149 of them.  Stones from the Parthenon, the Colosseum, and the Great Pyramid.  We wished we had more time to explore them all but, this was a timed competition and all.  And we were in it to win it.

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The quest also took us to a beautiful piece of artwork on Dearborn Street called “The Four Seasons” by Marc Chagall.  Six Chicago scenes are created from hundreds of thousands of mosaic tiles.  It is a fantastic backdrop for taking pictures.  My photo below is a close-up of one of the clues to a challenge but does not do justice to the magnificence of the whole piece.

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Another great thing about this online game is that you are not limited to the city you live in/near.  They currently have 60+ locations to choose from.  I think this is a fantastic way to explore a new city and I can’t wait to choose my next adventure!

Baseball – The Chicago Cubs – Part II

Going to a Cubs game is now being turned into a multi-day experience thanks to the new hotel and park that opened up in the last two years.  I explored these options just for you.

The new Hotel Zachary opened in March of 2018.  Considered a “boutique hotel”, it is a small (less than 200 rooms) hotel with upscale accommodations in an up-and-coming area.  Now, I would not consider Wrigleyville to be up-and-coming, but the area directly surrounding the baseball field is exactly that.  Located directly across from the ballpark on Clark street, Hotel Zachary sits atop a row of dining options, which, of course I also checked out.  For you.  Oh, the sacrifices I make for this blog 😊

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Along with the upscale accommodations, however, comes an upscale price.  The rooms were modern in their style and accessories (wireless iPhone chargers, oversized walk-in shower with rainfall showerheads).  We also appreciated the décor of the main bar and patio overlooking the ballpark and Gallagher Way (formerly known as the Park at Wrigley).

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On the first level of the hotel complex are a couple of new restaurants.  We chose Mordecai Whiskey & Grill because, well, it had “whiskey” in the name.  I would love to tell you what we ate that night, but I don’t see it listed on their menu right now.  And we were so hungry we forgot to take a picture before we dug in.  Well, that, and it was delicious.  I think it was halibut.

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After dinner, we packed up a few chairs and a cooler and headed across the street to the Gallagher Way park at Wrigley.  This is the open-air plaza that debuted in 2017.  On a game day, it is bustling with fans hanging out before heading into the stadium.  As I mentioned in Part I, it is very much like a block party atmosphere.  On non-game days and some evenings after a day game, there are a variety of activities taking place here.  There are fitness classes in the morning, a Farmer’s Market hosted by Green City Market, and movie nights hosted by the Music Box Theatre.  We took advantage of the Sundown Session concert happening that night.

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Before heading back into the hotel, we had to stop and get some dessert.  There is an interesting ice cream shop called Jeni’s right on the corner.  I say interesting because, well, look at some of the flavor options:

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With so many choices to make, we took advantage of the “Flights of Minis” – 3 half scoops.  I chose salty caramel, rainbow bfy (buttermilk frozen yogurt), and wildberry lavender.

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My SO went with goat cheese with red cherries, brown butter almond brittle, and the froze sorbet.

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They were all delicious.  I really liked rainbow bfy and the goat cheese one- it tasted like cherry cheesecake.  My SO really liked his brown butter almond brittle.

Then we headed back to the hotel for one last cocktail on the patio before retiring for the night.

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A really great way to experience a Cubs day game.  I highly recommend trying it at least once.

Baseball – The Chicago Cubs – Part I

Summertime means baseball.  And there are plenty of teams in Illinois to support.  Let’s start with the Chicago Cubs.  I know there is a rivalry in this town and, while I consider myself a Cubs fan, I am not a hater.  I have many family members and friends who are die-hard White Sox fans.  I don’t have time to be disrespectful of something they love.  Speaking of love, what baseball fan wouldn’t love this view?

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But, I digress.  Wrigley Field has been an iconic stadium on the North side of Chicago since 1914.  It is the second oldest park in the Majors, second only to Fenway Park in Boston.  Originally known as Weeghman Park, it hosted its first Cubs game in 1916 and officially changed its name to Wrigley Field in 1926.  It is best known for day games (especially in the bleachers), the ivy that covers outfield walls, and the forest green scoreboard that is still changed by hand.

Scoreboard

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the Cubs main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time, or c) register for the Chicago Cubs lottery and try to win $10 tickets – but only if you are available to go within 48 hours.

Baseball is, in my opinion, an easy sport to be a spectator at even if you are not familiar with all of the rules of play.  It has a relaxing, slow pace to it that goes well with day drinking.  There is also an added element of fun when you go to a day game – almost like you are playing hooky.  And, let’s be honest, the person sitting next to you probably is.  But night games are fun too.  Especially when they can fly the “W”.

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There is so much to see and do around the park as well.  There is no shortage of bars, restaurants, and shops (to get your gear on).  You can also relax in the sun in the new park area on the Clark Street side.  Or you can take a stroll around the park itself and check out the statues and brownstones (some of which have rooftop views).  It feels like a big block party when you go to a game.

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I will have a second post that will cover the new hotel and other recent improvements to the park and the game day atmosphere.  Baseball season doesn’t end until October – get out and see a game!

Raging Waves Water Park

I am here to tell you right now that you do not need to be a kid to go to a water park.  You also don’t need to have kids to be granted admission into a water park.  Why should they get to have all the fun anyway?

Water parks with big slides are even more fun and Raging Waves Water Park in Yorkville is just that place.  They have quite the variety, too.  There is the zero-depth pool that, every 15 minutes or so, turns into a wave pool.  The lazy river winds around the middle of the park so that you can see everything from the comfort of your inner tube.  And then there are the slides.  Body slides, single person inner tube slides, and multi-person tube slides.  With so much to choose from, you are guaranteed a good time.

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We arrived as close to opening time as possible.  This ensured us a few beach loungers near the wave pool.  They also have cabanas that you can rent but we chose to lounge in the sun.

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The cost of the park depends on what you are willing to pay for or do for yourself.  I found discounted tickets on Groupon (naturally).  You only need to rent an inner tube if you want one for the wave pool.  All other rides provide them or you have to get one from the lazy river.

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No food or beverages are allowed IN the park but there are many options for you to choose from.  You are also more than welcome to leave the park and eat your pre-packed lunch in the parking lot.  Just make sure you get the hand stamp for re-entry.

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Make sure you check the FAQ page before you get there.  There are some height requirements for some of the slides (don’t laugh – some of us “shorties” need to know) and other restrictions you might want to know about ahead of time.  So, get out there and be a kid again before the summer is over!

Divvy Bikes

Divvy is a bike sharing program in the city of Chicago.  The concept of bike sharing is becoming popular in the suburbs too.  It is super easy and convenient.  Sign up (via the app), get a code for a bike, take it for a ride, then park it at another station.  You can also pay for and get a bike at the kiosk by any of the stations.  They are EVERYWHERE in the city.  The seats are adjustable and there is no athletic ability required.  You don’t need to wear spandex or a helmet!

We decided to pick up a few bikes at the Planetarium and started our trek through the museum campus and along the lakefront.  How could you not love these views?

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Our trip took us all the way down to Navy Pier where we dropped the bikes off.  Just park them in the bike stand and you are done.  No bike locks.  No need to worry about your bike being stolen.  It’s just that easy.

From there, we decided to make a day of it and explore the newly renovated Riverwalk.  There is so much to see and do here.  Besides the restaurants that are popping up, there is all the beautiful architecture and artwork.

landscape

 

We stopped off at City Winery and had a cocktail and watched the boats and kayakers pass by.

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Then we returned to Navy Pier and, after a snack and another cocktail, we picked up a set of bikes again and headed back to the Planetarium.

This is not the only path you can take.  If you visit their site, there are suggested routes to take and recommended sites to see.  Or you can create your own adventure!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago

A food tour is a great way to get a taste of the flavors that a city has to offer.  A 3-hour walking food tour is an even better way to get to know about the city as well.  That is exactly what Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago has to offer.  You get a sampling of iconic Chicago dishes as well as some treats you maybe would not have tried on your own.  Plus, you get a little commentary on the architecture and history of the city itself.

My SO and I were in the city overnight and, knowing that we had to check out by 11:00 am, figured we would have lunch before heading home.  Instead of going to a standard restaurant, we decided ahead of time to give a food tour a try.  I found out about Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago through Groupon.  They have two options to choose from: River North and Wicker Park.  We went on the River North tour and met our guide, Jake, at 11:00 am just outside of the Merchandise Mart.

They like to keep it the groups small so there were only 12 of us total.  Yes, we were the only couple from Illinois, but that is not unusual.  Our first stop on the tour was an adorable little doughnut shop called The Doughnut Vault.  We each got a Buttermilk Old Fashion.  Not a sample.  A whole doughnut.  And maybe I should have saved some for later but it was soooooo good.

The Doughnut Vault

From there, we moved on to Lou Malnati’s pizza.  When you come to Chicago, you HAVE to try some deep dish pizza.  Now, I have had my fair share of deep dish pizza, including Lou Malnati’s, so this was nothing new to me.  But you can’t have a food tour in Chicago without a stop like this.  And I love deep dish so I was more than happy to get a slice of this iconic style pizza.

Lou Malnati's

The next stop took us to a small Mexican café called Xoco.  This is an Aztec word that means “little sister”.  It is a smaller companion piece next to Frontera Grill.  This was a necessary stop as chef Rick Bayless is a Chicago culinary treasure.  He has won just about every culinary award out there and I have a super foodie crush on him as well.  Here we were treated to some Mexican style street food.

Xoco

With a 3-hour tour there is plenty of walking so you can work off all of the food you are eating.  By the time we got over to Café Iberico, I was ready to eat again (almost).  This is a tapas bar/restaurant.  Tapas is a Spanish word that means “small dish”, like a snack/appetizer.  That was about all I had room for anyway.  We each got an individual portion of chicken with rice and sautéed onions.

Cafe Iberico

The final stop on the tour was, naturally, dessert.  We ended up at a bakery called Fabcakes.  This little gem has been serving European style meals and pastries since it opened up in 2012.  Each of us got a chocolate cookie sandwich with Nutella cream filling.

Fabcakes

All of the food we ate on the tour was delicious and a genuine representation of Chicago and its culture.  If you are thinking about taking one of their tours, and you should, I have two recommendations.  First, check out their FAQ page to see what is/is not allowed, especially when it comes to dietary restrictions.  Also, bring a bottled water with you.  Only two of the stops on the tour are dine-in.  The other three are truly sidewalk eating experiences.