This past Sunday my family took advantage of an unexpected balmy November morning to head to the Chicago's Maxwell Street Market.
The open-air flea market, located on South Des Plaines Street on the city's near west side near the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), is steeped in history and filled with treasures galore. All up and down the market you can find a varied and vast selection of food, grocery, clothing, hardware, automotive, appliance and jewelry items piled up as the eye can see. And, the prices just can't be beat!
Just one morning isn't enough to search through all of the tables of goods of all shapes, sizes and origins and sample all of the street food offerings too - but it's a good place to start.
A Market Steeped in History and Stocked with Bargains
As a child, my parents took me and my siblings to the original Maxwell Street Market, which operated on Maxwell Street from Halsted Street to 16th Street. Although the market moved to Canal Street in 1994 and then on to its current location on Des Plaines Street in 2008, it is pretty much as I remembered it.
All along the market you can still find tables upon tables of products - some new, some used, but all great to check out. And, there still is an overwhelming aroma of food grilling up at stands all throughout the market. But, the stands that used to sell Maxwell Street Polish sausage sandwiches, have been replaced by ones offering more Mexican food items like churros, tacos, quesadillas and tamales - a nod in the shifting demographics of the area and a testament to the original Maxwell Street's reputation of being the "Ellis Island of the midwest."
Now, as the parent taking my own children to the market, it was interesting to watch their reactions to the mix of people, products, foods and cultures found there. And, boy did they love it all!
Passing on an Appreciation for the Chicago's Famous Flea Market
The Maxwell Street Market is a flea market at its very finest. There truly are "treasures" of all kinds, making the saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" all the more real. While our sons overlooked the tables of remote controls, dustbusters and tools, they were enthralled by the selection of patches from countries around the world and of pop culture fads and icons - from yesterday and today. Where else can you go to buy Brazil and Hogwarts patches for just $5 each?
Our sons also loved the never-ending tables that had candies of all flavors that heralded from Chicago, Mexico and other countries around the globe. And, they could have spent hour upon hour shifting through bins of Pokemon card packs ($2 each!) and superhero figurines. The thrill of the hunt for a new sweet or toy helped us cover practically the entire market.
We weren't the only family taking advantage of the endless selection of toys (new and used) at the market. We saw plenty of families getting an early start on their holiday shopping, with some
walking down the street with doll-sized highchairs, action figures and other finds.
Making Time to Sample the Street Food at the Market
When you come to Maxwell Street Market, you need to be prepared to shop - and eat too. The scent of food cooking up on an early Sunday morning will be sure to whet your appetite - and you definitely need to indulge in some of the delectable culinary offerings.
Our sons each wisely chose churros for their morning treat. Churros, available in chocolate, vanilla and other varieties, can be purchased at not just one but two Churros trucks conveniently located at two different ends of the market. They washed it all down with a sweet, chilled glass of Horchata, a rice-based drink with a hint of cinnamon.
My husband and I eyed the delectable stands serving up tacos, burritos and tamales - and more. The flautas and gorditas offered at the Green House of Steak looked and smelled delicious - and the many people sitting near the grills, hidden away from the winds, were proof enough of the need to sample as many items as possible.
But, the biggest line can be found at Rubi's, which offers authentic takes on tacos, quesadillas and more. We had heard that the line starts forming at Rubi's as soon as the market opens, and by the time we walked by at around 10 a.m. the line was at least a dozen people strong. While we passed it up since our sons were tugging us along to the next table of toys, we pledged to eat at Rubi's on our next visit.
A Good Start to a Wonderful Sunday
For us, our visit to Maxwell Street Market was a great way to expose our sons to a bit of Chicago history and a give them yet another taste of the world. It truly was the perfect way to wake us up, get us going, and enable us to enjoy another wonderful Sunday in the Windy City.
I was glad to have returned to the "new" Maxwell Street Market after so many years. It offered me a chance to relive the experience I had enjoyed in my youth and pass an appreciation of the market and the mix of cultures represented there on to my children. While it was easy to get caught up in the hunt for bargains, it was nice to take a step back to look back at Chicago's history, enjoy a bit of nostalgia and look ahead to what the future holds for the city, its residents and this market.
Here's to world citizens!
Just the Facts... Visiting Maxwell Street Market
If you're heading out to the Maxwell Street Market, be sure to come ready to search through the many treasures to find anything you may need and be sure to be ready to sample all of the wonderful Mexican delights found throughout the market. Here are a few more details to help make your visit an easy and enjoyable one:
- Location: The main entrance to the market is located on South Des Plaines Street and Roosevelt Road. The market runs along Des Plaines Street from Roosevelt Road to the south and Harrison Street to the north.
- Dates/Hours: The market is open every Sunday - all year round - from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Cost: Admission is free. Be sure to bring cash to purchase all of your food and bargains.
- Parking: On-street, metered is available on the surrounding streets. You also can find reasonably priced parking at near UIC garages.
- Public Transportation: The market is located near CTA bus and "L" lines. You can map the best route for you to take via the CTA website.