2012 update, since 2010 the fireworks are no longer held on July 3rd in conjunction with the Taste, 2012 will be the 1st year that the festival didn't end on the July 4th weekend
The Taste of Chicago has been trimmed down from 10 days to 5 days in 2012 and has been moved from the usual dates around the 4th of July to July 11-15, 2012. They've also changed the format of the concerts, formerly they were entirely free, now they are selling reserved seats with the lawn free. The focus is supposed to be on food, it will be interesting to see how many people show up for the Fest this year.
A few fun facts:
The 1st Taste of Chicago was in 1980, held on Michigan Avenue near the Tribune Tower. It was moved to Grant Park in 1981.
Arnie Morton, founder of Morton's steakhouse, was the brains behind the festival
Unique Suggestions: We still go to the Taste of Chicago at least once every year by bicycle but try to do it on the least crowded days and times. If you do feel compelled to go, do it on a weekday during the day when the crowds are more manageable. The best time to go is at 11 am when it opens and around 3 pm after the lunch crowd.
Don't drive, take public transportation. Or ride your bike, the free bike valet is a thing of the past but there are places to lock it up
Try the Taste portions (3 tickets) instead of the larger portions so you can try more. And don't waste your tickets on things like corn on the cob (5 tickets!) that you can make yourself.
Look before buying, sometimes the portions are really small for the price. Even better, check the Chicago Tribune online for tips on where to get the best food
No alcoholic beverages or glass containers are allowed inside the taste so leave the cooler at home. You can bring your own water and soft drinks though. Bring wetnaps.
Prebuy tickets at Dominick's grocery stores, they are $6.00 per sheet of 12 instead of $8, usually until the day before it starts.
Fun Alternatives: If you skip the Taste, this may very well be the best time to get into the city's hot restaurants as everyone else is heading to the Taste. The food is more reasonable and you'll not find the usual crowds
Taste of Chicago. Every year Grant park becomes a cluster of thousands of people, wanting to taste what Chitown has to offer. Extreme lines and idiot people who stop in the middle of the lanes while everyone is walking to gawk at nothing.
Unique Suggestions: The food is good. I went to 5 different places, and just tried their "taste" which is a small portion for 3 tickets or $1.50 or something like that. I think its the best way to go. When you go to get tickets, make sure you bring cash. $30 is a good start unless your gonna drink. Then youll need way more. Dont get yoru tickets right away when you walk in, unless the line is short or you can find a hidden window. I suggest you walk in towards the center and find a ticketbooth thats not busy.
Fun Alternatives: Its fun for a few hours or so and a different way to eat. I can only handle so much of the crowds.
Taste of Chicago is one big trap for tourists and suburbanites. It should be called taste of Chicago bar food. Go if you want to pay lots of money for stuffed pizza and all other types of fried food. Also if you are willing to fight the crowds and the heat.
Unique Suggestions: Please don't bring a stroller. If you have to go you can buy your food tickets ahead of time at the supermarket (Dominicks or Jewel). Also, enjoy the music. They do tend to get great musical acts. If you MUST go to the Taste, then try to go during the week when it is not as crowded and take public transportation.
Fun Alternatives: Check out a neighborhood festival instead.
I haven't been to this summertime festival in Grant Park in ages, but recently I've heard various stories about it, both negative and positive. It's a huge, week-long celebration in July, with many of the significant Chicago-area restaurants having foods stands set up with their specialty dishes. While I'm sure the food's good, it's notoriously crowded. There is little room to sit down anywhere, so you'll probably have to juggle your food and drink while standing up, or grab a bench if you're lucky. Just be warned and prepared, or do as I do, and skip it entirely. Get a good recommendation on a couple of the restaurants that reguarly participate, and go to their actual restaurants instead. You'll have a wider variety of food, air conditioning, and a place to sit down! :)
Unique Suggestions: Look here to find more details about the festival:
Every summer, over 3 million people gather together over 10 days for the Taste of Chicago at Grant Park. It is a collection of many restaurants from all over Chicago that have samples of a few of their menu items.
Let me describe how I see the Taste: Crowded, hot, dirty, messy, many items are overpriced, and the food quality is lower than what you would find at the actual restaurant.
$7 will get you a book of 11 tickets, which is hardly enough to buy a meal and a drink. Most meals are 7-9 tickets with sample portions at 3 tickets and drinks at 4 or 5 tickets (beer is 7 tickets). Most portions are not that big to begin with, so you end up spending lots of money quickly. And with the odd amount of tickets you get for each book, you always end up a few short and have to go back for another book.
My least favorite part - it ties up traffic that is already terrible to begin with!!!
Unique Suggestions: First of all, if you must go to the Taste, do it on a weekday, because the weekends are ridiculously packed.
A few items are worth it - Cheesecake, turkey leg, pizza, rib sandwiches, and the alligator is always popular. There are also some concerts and some pretty good fireworks displays.
This is also an excellent place for people watching. I always say I wont go, but end up there when a group of friends persuades me. I usually just get a couple of the above items and watch the crowds.
Fun Alternatives: Avoid it if you can. Do something else.
The Taste is possibly the worst way to experience the great cuisine of Chicago. It's just a glorified state fair food court with a couple of upscale places thrown in. Honestly, the festival is uncomfortably crowded, hot and unsanitary. Don't cheat yourself out of a great dining experience - go to place where the air is cool, the tables are clean, the waitstaff is professional and the chefs have the right equipment to work their magic. It's called a restaurant.
Unique Suggestions: Get some mosquito spray.