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The Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park during Taste of Chicago on July 11, 2018.

The Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park during Taste of Chicago on July 11, 2018.

Colin Boyle

Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park

Taste of Chicago, the city’s “biggest party for everyone,” is back in Grant Park this weekend, albeit a couple months late.

Neal Heitz, director of event production for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and lead event producer for Taste of Chicago, said the eating and entertainment extravaganza is focused on having representation from all parts of the city.

“Taste of Chicago is the city’s biggest party for everyone,” Heitz said.

It comes during a busy weekend in Chicago, Heitz noted.

“Bears home opener against the Packers and Taste of Chicago at the same time; throw in Lit Fest in Printer’s Row, and it’s like, how much more Chicago can you get this weekend?” he said.

The fest typically takes place around the Fourth of July weekend, but this year NASCAR took over Grant Park for its inaugural street race here. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to hold Taste of Chicago on the same weekend but at Polk Brothers Park near Navy Pier was met with fierce opposition from downtown alderpersons in early March. A few days later, the city announced that Taste would be in Grant Park, but moved to September.

The city also held three smaller Taste events throughout the city: June 24 in Humboldt Park; July 15 in Pullman Park; and Aug. 5 in Marquette Park.

The Chicago Street Race could be back for at least the next two years, but it’s too early to tell whether Taste will return in a similar format next year, Heitz said.

Returning this year to the city’s largest food festival are staples such as Connie’s Pizza, Churro Factory, Eli’s Cheesecake and Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs. Newcomers like African Food Palace, Cumin Club Indian Kitchen and Pies of London will also be in the mix, said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Taste allows vendors, especially the newer ones, to showcase their businesses, Toia said.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of people there, so people like African Food Palace or Pies of London or Gaby’s Funnel Cakes, this is where they can show off their products. And hopefully, then customers that try them out at Taste of Chicago will come to their places in the neighborhood,” he said.

A diverse lineup of entertainment is also on the menu. Headliners include the Masters of the Mic: Hip Hop 50 tour artists Doug E. Fresh, EPMD, KRS-One and Slick Rick; singer-songwriter Lupita Infante, who will be supported by the all-female, Chicago-based mariachi group Mariachi Sirenas; Dominican American hip-hop group Proyecto Uno; and Chicago-based band Whitney.

“The way that we program Taste of Chicago, it’s designed [to have] a little something for everyone. We’re always trying to be as diverse and representative of our city and the various genres of music and giving people an experience,” Heitz said.

Some of the newer events this year include the Chicago Sings Karaoke stage; Run Mag Mile, a race on Saturday morning in conjunction with Taste; and a tribute to the late DJ Casper, the creator of the popular Cha Cha Slide.

In 2019, there were 41 food vendors and 17 food trucks over five days. This year there will be 35 vendors and food trucks. Taste of Chicago isn’t back to what it was pre-pandemic, but that’s intentional, Heitz said.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we really have to baby step. ... There are still challenges for the restaurants and the caterers and the culinary community at large. So we’re working back toward it, but this year’s Taste of Chicago isn’t the full-scale [event it was] in 2019.”

Weather could work in Taste’s favor with mild late-summer temps in the forecast.

“The forecast is looking beautiful ... mid-70s, partly sunny, with no chance of rain. That is certainly great eating and drinking weather,” Heitz said.

If you go

Parking: Garages are Grant Park North Garage, 25 N. Michigan Ave.; Grant Park South Garage, 325 S. Michigan Ave.; and Millennium Park Garage & Millennium Lakeside Garage, 5 S. Columbus Drive.

Street closures:Columbus Drive from Balbo Drive to Monroe Street; Ida B. Wells Drive from Michigan Avenue to Columbus Drive; and Jackson Drive from Michigan Avenue to DuSable Lake Shore Drive are closed until Monday.

Admission: Free. Organizers have expanded the number of festival entrances to make it easier to access Grant Park. Entrance gates are at Jackson Drive west of Columbus Drive; Ida B. Wells east of Michigan Avenue; and Columbus and Balbo drives. Entertainment is also free, but there are no seats, so bring your own if you don’t want to stand or sit on the ground.

Food: There will be no Taste tickets; all vendors accept cash and credit. Beverage vendors accept only credit cards.

What you can bring in: Sunscreen lotion (no aerosol cans); strollers and child care supplies; binoculars; beach towel (one per person, nothing larger); rain jacket or poncho; paper fan or mini personal fans/misters; prescription medication; plastic baby bottles and milk/formula; empty plastic water bottles (no metal or glass) and water pouches; folding chairs or lawn chairs.

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