Chicago's Best Summer Food Festivals

Chicago's Best Summer Food Festivals
Ribfest 2013. Photo credit: Big Buzz Media Group

It’s summertime in Chicago and the eating is easy with the city’s jam-packed calendar of food festivals from now until the snow flies--or you know what freezes over (that would be Chicago).

Explore the real Chicago through its stomach at the free admission Taste of Chicago, the many ethnic neighborhood festivals or the brand new Food Network Festival.

During our radio interview last Sunday with Matt Bubala on 720 WGN's FoodTime show we had the opportunity to talk about this very subject and as promised, drum-roll please, here is Show Me Chicago's list of 12 of Chicago's best summer food festivals for 2014.

1. RIBFEST CHICAGO, June 6-8, Lincoln/Irving Park/Damen Lincoln Avenue from Irving Park to Berteau (4000 N to 4165 N)

Why go: A chance to try BBQ from 16 of the city’s best pitmasters all in one location plus twenty hot bands with indie, pop, indie roots and alt country.

What not to miss: 
Try Uncle Bub’s BBQ ribs judged #1 in the 2013 Celebrity Judge’s Best Ribs contest--or for something a little different, how about Browntrout's BBQ Poutine.

2. TASTE OF CHICAGO, July 9-13, Grant Park

Why go: To taste food from 66 of Chicago’s amazing food establishments--a trip around the world of food--African, American, Caribbean, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine--in the one-stop setting of beautiful Grant Park.  The free admission fest has it all with pop up restaurants, food trucks, gourmet dining, kids activities and chef demos...along with a great musical line-up.  Can't wait until July--check out the Taste of Chicago preview, featuring 8 to 10 vendors, on Daley Plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday June 25.

What not to miss: Turkey Legs are back. After a 2-year hiatus, the popular BBQ turkey legs—always a top seller—from Manny’s Coffee Shop have returned.

3. WINDY CITY SMOKEOUT, July 11-13, new location--at Grand Avenue and the Chicago River

Why go: Go for the BBQ and country music. The Windy City Smokeout, now in its second year, is becoming known as The BBQ Festival of the Midwest. This year's Smokeout will bring some of the top pitmasters and BBQ joints in the nation–right here to the Windy City where they'll rub shoulders with some of Chicago favorites including Smoque, Lillie’s Q, Chicago Q, and Bub City. Tickets are on sale now for $25 to $100 at WCS website.

What not to miss: You may want to check out the New York-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, who will be expanding to Chicago in 2015. Or if you're a fan of St. Louis BBQ, try Pappy's Smokehouse from the Lou known for some of the best Memphis Style BBQ in the nation.

4. CHINATOWN SUMMER FAIR, Sunday, July 20, Wentworth from Cermak to 24th Place

ChinatownWhy go: Go for the great food from neighborhood restaurants and street vendors. Stay for the colorful traditions of the Lion Dance Procession, Chinese classical dance and music, demonstrations of martial arts, and displays of ancient art forms and disciplines.

What not to miss: Be on the lookout for the tasty Crispy-skinned Chicken--a specialty of Three Happiness Restaurant--or if you're more adventuresome go for the cartilaginous pig's ear.

5. TASTE OF LATIN AMERICA, August 2 – 3, 3600 to 3828 W Armitage

Why go:   To curry up with the hot sounds and tastes of all things Central and South American. A maize of eclectic and exotic tastes will greet you along with live music, arts, crafts and cooking demonstrations that showcases the rich multi-country culture.

What not to miss: GO crazy with the fish panades and empanadas, Brazilian sausage and fried plantains.  Or try the gallo pinto (painted rooster)--sounds exotic but it's actually just black beans and rice.

6. GINZA HOLIDAY, August 8-10, Midwest Buddhist Temple, Old Town

Why go: Ginza Holiday, one of Chicago's oldest fests (since 1956), celebrates the beauty of the Japanese culture with music, food, ginza-fest-templemartial arts demonstrations, crafts and more.

What not to miss: You must have the famous Chicken Teriyaki Dinner that's been around as long as the fest.  The "new" Midwest Buddhist Temple (1972), pictured here is affectionately referred to as "The Temple That Teriyaki Built," because of the funds raised through the years of selling this popular dish.

7. FESTA ITALINIA, August 14-August 17, Little Italy, Taylor St. at Ashland Avenue

Why go: In the heart of Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, the fest celebrates the history and heritage of the Italian community with authentic Italian food, activities, and live entertainment.

What not to miss:  Grape stomping.

8. TASTE OF GREEKTOWN, August 23 – 24, 400 S. Halsted St. at Van Buren

Why go:  Just minutes from Chicago's downtown, Greektown is a world away with its authentic Greek restaurant scene and Mediterranean culture. Now in its 25th year, the fest showcases everything Greek from food and spirits to the music and entertainment.

What not to miss: Belly Dancers and the Ouzo. Opa!

9. UKRAINIAN DAYS FESTIVAL, August 23, 24, Smith Park (Grand/Campbell)

Why go:  It takes a village, Ukrainian Village, that is, for this celebration of Ukrainian culture with music, dance, ethnic food, sports competitions, crafts and family activities.

What not to miss: The Ukrainian varenyky, similar to the Polish pierogi, and oh, so good--OR the Oksana Baiul--don't ask, just try it.

10. TASTE OF POLONIA, August 29 to September 1, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

Why go:  Over 30 bands, kielbasa, pierogi, beer, a kid's zone--and if things get too hot outdoors, a good bet is to head indoors to the Casino.

What not to miss: The Squeezebox Polka Band--a Taste of Polonia festival fav.

11. GERMAN AMERICAN FEST, September 5-7, Lincoln and Leland Avenues

Why go:  This annual event in the Lincoln Square neighborhood celebrates all things German. Expect traditional cultural programs, music, dancing, and German food and beverages.

What not to miss: The General Von Steuben Day Parade (start at 4000 N. Lincoln Ave.), 2 p.m. Saturday.

12. FOOD NETWORK IN CONCERT, September 20, Ravinia Festival, Highland Park

Why go: You probably won't see Paula Deen, but you will find some of Food Network's rising stars including Anne Burrell, Alex Guarnaschelli, Jose Garces, Jeff Mauro, Marc Murphy, Geoffrey Zakarian...who according the the FN press release are "The Rock Stars of Food."  These celebrity chefs will be teaming up with some of Chicago's rock star chefs for a full day of music, performances, food demos, seminars and tastings from over 50 chefs and 100 plus wineries.

What not to miss: Since 2014 is the inaugural year for Food Network in Concert, it's hard to know what to expect. But if you are a foodie, a Food Network fan or just like to eat and drink in the intoxicating atmosphere of Ravinia Festival, tickets are still available for $99 to $299 by clicking here.

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