Taste of Chicago 2005

This year marked another successful year for the Taste of Chicago.

Record crowds gathered near the lake front event for the annual food and music summer festival the City of Chicago proudly sponsors. This year I made my trip on a Saturday, normally I would go on a lunch break during the week. This year there seemed to be far more people than the year before. The weather was accommodating with mild heat and a nice breeze. The crowd however has too tight to find it pleasing.

Taste of Chicago Roadmap - Booths worth waiting in line for.

The city offers a map of Taste of Chicago's layout. We can one-up that. Our "Taste, Don't Waste (Time)" guide is your key to downing the best eats with the least amount of confusion. Unlike the other three million festival-goers bumping elbows in search of ribs, your man-with-a-plan approach will ensure that you don't miss a single desired morsel. (Which is easy to do, considering that Taste features more than 60 restaurants.)

Keep in mind these vital facts: Taste runs through July 4 at Grant Park. Taste opens at 11 a.m. and runs through 9 p.m. (ticket sales end a 8:30 p.m., and Taste stays open until 9:30 p.m. July 3-4).

Admission is free but the food sure isn't. Tickets are sold in strips of 11 for $7. Each "Taste portion," a smaller serving of the restaurant's regular menu item, generally costs one to three tickets. Major credit cards are accepted. In addition to the restaurant booths, be sure to check out the Dominick's Cooking Corner, which features cooking demonstrations by the chefs of Chilpancingo, China Grill, Adobo Grill and more. Musical performers take the stage, with techno-great Moby capping things off on July 4.

But on to the food: We've highlighted our favorites.

A Natural Harvest (Booth 55)
A must-stop for vegetarians, this is the only strictly vegetarian restaurant holding court at Taste. Enjoy a duo of vegetarian tamales, one spicy, one plain, and roasted corn on the cob. Double cheese nachos and Cajun cheese fries round out the offerings.

Abbey Pub (Booth 9)
You've gone for the music, now try the food. The pub's eclectic sound (past performers include Iron & Wine and Blonde Redhead) meets with a more specific Irish/American menu. Sample fish and chips, corn on the cob, baked potato with toppings and curry fries.

Arya Bhavan (Booth 52)
Spice things up with a bit of Indian; enjoy samosas and tandoori chicken, as well as matar paneer (fried cream cheese with peas in tomato and onion sauce) and chana masala (spiced chickpeas), both served with naan.

Atrium (Booth 47)
Check out Atrium, whose downtown locale could prove a great lunch spot if you're in the mood for Greek. Expect gyros, Greek chicken on pita, saganaki and baklava.

Aunt Diana's Candy Makers (Booth 14)
For those who wish all food came dipped in fudge, dine on chocolate-dipped strawberries and frozen bananas, or sink your teeth into a block of creamy fudge.

Bella Luna Cafe (Booth 10)
With eats worth waiting in line for, it would be a shame to miss Bella Luna's beer-battered artichoke hearts (yum!) and toasted crab ravioli.

Buona Beef (Booth 22)
Trying to stick to that lo-carb diet at Taste? Lots of luck to you. Start smart by stopping at Buona Beef for its lo-carb plate with beef, sausage, mozzarella and green pepper.

Celebration Creamery (Booth 21)
It's not a summer fest without funnel cake, and Celebration Creamery ups the ante with a vanilla ice cream topping.

Dominick's (Booth 42)
A chain grocery store may seem a dull booth to stop at, but if you're craving nature's favorite palate cleanser, fruit, Dominick's bing cherries, red and green grapes, sweet corn and watermelon will do the trick.

Eli's Cheesecake (Booth 18)
Overrated, perhaps, but oh-so Chicago, Eli's offers original (plain or with strawberries), Smoosh (made with Oreos) and totally turtle cheesecake, along with chocolate chip crunch dippers.

Fireplace Inn (N. Wells) (Booth 44)
This Old Town-staple offers baby back ribs and boneless rib sandwiches. But add its deep-fried olives with cheese and salsa filling to your "I should try that" list.

Grizzly's Lodge (Booth 1)
For the truly adventurous, sample Cajun alligator (on a stick, no less), fried catfish nuggets and wild boar sausage.

Harold's Chicken #13 (Booth 31)
This South Side chain has the last word when it comes to so-good fried chicken. Munch on chicken wings and nuggets and fried okra.

Harry Caray's (Booth 28)
Keep yourself away from the junk-food on diet-centric weekdays? Indulge here with fried dough, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies.

Hey Sushi (Booth 60)
Save the raw stuff for the climate-controlled restaurant, but be sure to try Hey Sushi's cooked offerings, like grilled chicken breast teriyaki sandwich, Japanese fried dumplings and chicken teriyaki wings.

Home Run Inn Pizza (Booth 32)
The king of the frozen food aisle tastes even better just out of the oven. Choose from cheese and sausage varieties, and finish with a simple but refreshing order of frozen grapes.

Kasia's Deli (Booth 48)
Get your Polish deli fix, compliments of Kasia's. Sample potato, sauerkraut and spinach pierogies, Polish sausage, chicken kabob with curry rice and potato pancakes with apple sauce.

Kendall College Cafe/Vienna Beef (Booth 23)
Two Chicago favorites team up to serve hot dogs, beef brisket sandwiches, Maxwell Street Polish sausages and the always-fabulous pickle on a stick.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (Booth 29)
A tried and true Chicago favorite (one that should always be chosen over Gino's East), Lou Malnati's will offer cheese and sausage pizza, bruschetta and chopped salad.

Maxine's Jamaican Cuisine (Booth 16)
The weather may be hot, but you'll be wise to heat things up even more with some spicy Jamaican cuisine, compliments of Maxine. Try jerk chicken, oxtails, fried plantains and curry goat.

Mazzone's Italian Ice (Booth 25)
Looking for something light and refreshing? You can't go wrong with an Italian ice duo or trio. Choose from lemon, strawberry and blue raspberry.

Original Rainbow Cone (Booth 40)
For locals who stay north of the Loop, a stop by the Original Rainbow Cone could change your mind. Forget the other offerings. You must try the rainbow cone itself, a multi-colored combination of chocolate, strawberry, palmer (cherry and walnut) and pistachio ice cream and orange sherbet.

Pars Cove Persian Cuisine (Booth 2)
A new addition to this year's Taste, it's nearly impossible to go wrong with Pars Cove's hummus shirazi (the good stuff topped with tabouli), dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), kabobs and baklava.

Star of Siam (Booth 24)
Start with some pad thai, a sure crowd pleaser, before sampling Star of Siam's other Thai offerings, including pot stickers, grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce and goong seab mail (grilled shrimp on a stick with vegetable tempura).

Tuscany (Little Italy) (Booth 41)
Located in Chicago's Little Italy, one bite here may have you checking out a new neighborhood. Choose from toasted ravioli and Italian beef and sausage.

Tutto Italiano (Booth 27)
Your breath may not be happy but your stomach will be after you sample flat bread filled with blue cheese and tomatoes and a steak burger with blue cheese.

Vee-Vee's African Cuisine (Booth 59)
If you've never tried plantains, here's your opportunity. Sample this banana-like fruit seasoned in garlic sauce or with sauteed goat. Jerk chicken with red beans and rice is also available.

Volare (Booth 49)
It's not a festival without churros. Get yours here, along with fried dough served plain or with strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

Zephyr Cafe (Booth 58)
The handful of sundaes offered at Taste pale in comparison to Zephyr's many in-house options. Sample a fresh strawberry, hot fudge, brownie or pineapple sundae, then plan a trip to the Wilson location for an enormous banana split or French fried ice cream.