The Taste of Chicago (July 5-9) easily overshadows every food festival in the Midwest due to its sheer number of participating restaurants, attendance and live music acts. But in terms of spotlighting the diversity of Chicago’s best restaurants and chefs, it falls short.
In recent years, festival organizers have added a celebrity chef component in an attempt to draw hardcore foodies, and it’s a pretty good deal at $40 per person for three courses. But let’s face it, Taste’s core crowd comes for giant BBQ turkey legs and slices of "Chicago-style" deep-dish pizza--not for fancy feasts.
To get a taste of more foodie-focused festivals, a trip to some of Chicago’s most colorful neighborhoods is in order. From Taste of Randolph to Northalsted Market Days, here are five food festival alternatives to Taste of Chicago.
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The West Loop’s famed “restaurant row” is home to world-class dining destinations like Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat and Paul Kahan’s Blackbird. The three-day festival is a chance to check them out (if you can squeeze inside the restaurants) as well as a number of hot spots that have set up shop in the middle of Randolph Street. BellyQ, which is co-owned by Michael Jordan, as well as Kahan’s rockin’ sandwich shop Publican Quality Meats will be in the mix. Live music ranges from bluegrass to alternative rock, and an after-party happens at nearby City Winery. It’s June 16-18 and there’s a $10 donation. 900 W. Randolph St.
Nearby Hotel: Soho House Chicago. The London-based hotel group opened its first property in the Midwest in 2014. Soho House takes over a six-floor historic warehouse dating back to 1907, the original manufacturing center of the Chicago Belting Factory. There are 40 guest rooms and suites.
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Thirteen BBQ-focused joints--including some of the very best BBQ restaurants in Chicago such as Robinson’s #1 Ribs and Smoke Daddy--are set to serve up finger-licking food in Lincoln Square. And if that’s not enough grub for you, other vendors will be on hand with tasty items like deep-fried Oreos, stuffed burgers, bourbon caramel apple doughnuts and duck fat fries. The highlight of the festival is “RibMania,” the Midwest’s only sanctioned rib-eating competition. A number of live musical and performance acts are also scheduled. Ribfest takes place June 9-11 and there’s a $10 donation. The festival entrance is at the intersections of Lincoln/Irving Park/Damen.
Nearby Hotel: The Guesthouse Hotel.
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The one-day event is pricier than the others because it boasts more than 100 local chefs and mixologists serving up specialty bites and drinks for almost three hours. Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, and Paul Kahan are just a few of the big names who have participated in the past. Located in Lincoln Park, the event also features an “open bar” with locally made craft beers, wine, hand-crafted cocktails and more. VIP tickets offer attendees tented seating. The Chefs BBQ happens July 20. The event takes place at the south end of Lincoln Park, 1815 N. Clark St.
- Hotel Lincoln. The boutique-style property offers a spectacular view of Lincoln Park, which guests may enjoy from their rooms as well as from rooftop lounge J. Parker. It's also in close proximity to Wrigley Field and Lincoln Park Zoo
- Park Hyatt Chicago. The premium luxury hotel is in the middle of the Michigan Avenue shopping district. Its upscale amenities have so much appeal, from a 6,500-square-foot gym complete... with 25-yard lap pool to rotating art installations in the lobby. NoMI is the property's dining and drinking destination, and it serves up seasonal, global fare. It's an especially popular meeting spot during the summer on its terrace and in the winter at the bar.
- Villa D'Citta. You can expect solid accommodations in this posh, vintage building that's been around since 1887 in Lincoln Park. The eight rooms are Italian inspired, such as the Venetian suite, which includes a queen-size bed, flat-screen TV, private bath, sitting area, and a private terrace with walk-out access to the spa and sun deck. For an extra $25 a day, guests may rent an urban cycle to explore the neighborhood.
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Northalsted Market Days
The two-day event takes place in Boystown and draws a predominantly gay and lesbian crowd. The festival not only showcases the area’s most notable restaurants and bars, but music is also a large component. Previous years have seen the likes of Olivia Newton-John, En Vogue, and Margaret Cho. The event happens August 12-13. There’s a $10 suggested donation. Entrances are at Belmont and Halsted and Addison and Halsted.
Nearby Hotel: Villa Toscana Guest House. Built in 1892, this charming Victorian-style bed and breakfast is completely renovated, offering eight European-style rooms that range in decor from Art Deco to Moroccan. There is a seasonally landscaped front yard and garden for guests to relax or enjoy breakfast on the outdoors deck.