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Transcript: These are the 'can't-miss' Chicago street festivals this summer

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People buy food to go at the Taste of Austin To-Go festival in July 2021 on Chicago’s West Side.

Patrick L. Pyszka/Patrick L.Pyszka, Samuel Sotelo-Avila, City of Chicago

As the summer approaches, street festivals are making their way back to Chicago.

WBEZ contributor Lauren Viera has been tracking down the best of the best to help you curate an unforgettable summer.

She sat down with WBEZ’s Rundown podcast host Erin Allen to discuss the “can’t miss” festivals happening this year.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire interview.

ERIN ALLEN: Out of all the hundreds of festivals all summer, you narrowed this down to 10 for the writing that you did. Tell me how did you narrow that down?

LAUREN VIERA: Okay, well, the assignment was very open ended. This is just like street fests, basically, that you should put on your calendar, you want to pay attention to this summer. And my approach is thinking, 'Okay, what would actually draw me out of my neighborhood to go to another hood's street fest? What is going to be worth it?'

And then also, this list is reflective of pretty much the whole summer, so just thinking about finding something to do every single weekend. We're not going to bunch them up. And then a third, I think, component of this list is diversity in region. So trying to think about, 'Okay, I don't want to go back to the same neighborhood, two weekends in a row. I want to get around the city and see what the best of the offers are.'

EA: So I know one of the festivals you wrote about is kind of has this unique food concept. Can you talk about that one on the North Side?

LV: Yes, I think you're talking about Flavors of Albany Park. And this one I wanted to include because it is so different. It's less of a festival, per se, and it's more of like a food crawl, which I think is really unique. So this is Albany Park's 15th annual restaurant crawl, and it's three hours on one night, it's on June 26. And you do need tickets, and you basically kind of choose your own adventure. You can go, I think the cross streets are Lawrence and Kedzie. And you basically pick a direction depending on which restaurants you want to hit up. And when you pass the restaurant, they have little bites that they hand out to you as you're passing.

EA: Let's talk about some family friendly stuff. What are some things you can bring all ages to?

LV: I personally might be getting my family out to the Tacos and Tamales Fest, which is in Pilsen. It's July 19 through 21. I mean, just by the sound of it, you can guess what it's all about. We're talking about the street food that's easy to carry around. And it's also set up like right at 16th and Peoria where those murals are, you know, it's gonna be really colorful. And just when I was kind of researching which street fest I found the most fun as far as the mix of vendors and food and everything else going on, this is a really good one for a cultural mix.

EA: Okay, nice.

LV: Moving on, the Chinatown Summer Fair, which is a little bit later in July, it's July 27 through 28, it's also a really cool one. They kick it off every year with this dragon parade. So that happens this year at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, that's kind of the official opening of the street fest. There's like kung fu demonstrations. There's tons of food at this one too, so again, being all about the food for the street fest.

EA: Show up hungry.

LV: Yeah, head to Chinatown. There's gonna be lots and lots of yummy things to eat. It's an awesome one.

EA: So, big picture, as you've scoured the festivals happening almost every day this summer, what advice would you give the next person when they're deciding which festivals they are going to spend a day at?

LV: I think you have to commit. If you're going to head out and like go to a different neighborhood arts fest where you can't just wander home when you're feeling hot or, you know, your kid gets bored or your friend wants to go do something else, like you got to commit. So I think you got to wear your hat, bring your sunscreen, bring your water bottle, like bring some cash, you never know who's going to be doing Venmo or cash or whatnot.

Plan to stay a while, like get into it and spend some time talking to the vendors getting to know them. I love a fest that has vendors I've never met or heard of before, instead of the same old ones that are at every fest. So I think that's a good part of it too is just plan to be there and like really, you know, get in the trenches of that neighborhood and see what it's all about. This is why we have them.

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