5 Reasons We Wouldn’t Be Sad To See Taste of Chicago End

One alderman says it’s time to end the 33-year-old food fest. We’re inclined to agree.

Taste of Chicago

Photograph: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Chicago may no longer be able to tout “the world’s largest food festival,” if Alderman Bob Fioretti has his way.

He and a group of fellow Alderman submitted a resolution on Wednesday calling on the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation to hold hearings on the 33-year-old Taste of Chicago, asking specifically whether or not it should continue. According to DCASE, the food festival lost the city $1.3 million in 2012, prompting Fioretti and his supporters to question its viability.

Is the city ready to lose the famous fest? At Chicago magazine, we’ve been covering the event since the 1980s. The overwhelming response from our crew? Shut it down. Here’s why we’ve lost our appetite:

It’s touristy.
“Opening year. The whole lake front crackled with excitement and more and more folks drifted in all day until the “midway” and the park were packed with happy munchers. Fortunately, we staked out a little patch of grass early and claimed it for a personal picnic ground—with every course coming from the Taste. We took turns going on food runs. So much fun. You would think Elvis had come to town. Loved the Rainbow Cones and pizza and giant turkey legs. This was before chefs had become rock stars and being able to sample a ton of iconic Chicago foods in one day was about as good as it gets.

As the Taste grew bigger, my appetite for it lessened. Too crowded, too touristy, too loud, too predictable. I finally gave in a few years back, if only to confirm my lowered expectations. I walked around to take in the scene, bought a Rainbow Cone, and was safely seated at the movies at 600 N. Michigan by 4 p.m. in time to catch the latest foodie flick, Ratatouille. Seemed only right.”
—Penny Pollack, dining editor

It’s lazy.
“I went in probably 1987; the first TOC was in 1980. My memory was that it was truly the fulfillment of the premise: tasty samples from good new restaurants in the city (although, admittedly, who knows how good the restaurants were). The sad thing is that it’s hardened into canned cultural programming—slotting in the same vendors year after year.”
—Jennifer Tanaka, executive editor

It’s too drunk.
“I like the fact that they have gotten some bigger bands in recent years—Death Cab for Cutie, for example, and even some high-powered country acts—but I don’t find the food very adventurous, and there are too many drunk people. Also, the last time I was there I was very pregnant and the bathrooms were dis-gus-ting.”
—Cassie Walker Burke, executive editor

It’s a money pit.
“I’ll admit I haven’t been to the Taste since the mid-00s. Even back then I had the same complaints as current festgoers have: overpriced food that’s half as good as in the brick and mortar restaurants, huge crowds on hot days, not nearly enough low-cal or vegetarian options, etc. I’d be okay with the Taste continuing and just not attending, though, if it actually brought in money to the city. Turns out it doesn’t.
—Emmet Sullivan, senior editor

It’s not a true “taste” of Chicago.
“If I wanted any of that food, I could just go and get it without dealing with the crowds. There’s only so much you can eat after waiting in a long line in the burning sun, never mind finding a place to sit. It was great to go and see Jennifer Hudson last year. But I was underwhelmed by the food—which is supposed to be the whole point. I can think of five random Polish restaurants where you could get a better sausage any day of the year.”
—Kristina Vragovic, editorial intern



1 year ago
Posted by Thoughts4U

I used to Really like the Taste...However in Recent years it is No Longer the Taste, because the Portions provided are so Large, it is more the a complete meal. When one is provided such a Large portion he/she cannot partake of more than a few vendors. This defeats the whole Purpose of the TASTE of Chicago. And the Prices, well.... In addition, you don't see any of the smaller restaurants which have such fantastic food... Things need to Change for the Taste to continue, IMHO.

12 months ago
Posted by Liz S.

As someone who loves the Taste, I have to weigh in.

It’s touristy.
Of course it is, that's the whole point: to bring tourists (like myself) into the city. I can see how locals would get tired of it. But honestly, this sort of event isn't for residents, it's to draw out-of-towners to Chicago. This isn't supposed to be a neighborhood festival; the GOAL is to draw hundreds of thousands of attendees. If you don't like big crowds, come early on a weekday or skip it.

It’s lazy.
I'm not a resident of Chicago, so the only time I have a chance to eat from most of the restaurants is at the Taste. That being the case, I look forward to revisiting my favorite stands every year. It's nice to have new restaurants each year, but there also need to be fixtures that return every year.

It’s too drunk.
I'll give you that one. It's why I come early in the day and never on a weekend. I'd like to see additional rules put in place to limit the amount of alcohol attendees can drink at the Taste.

It’s a money pit.
As someone who doesn't live in Chicago, I'd call the entire city a money pit. A friend and I came to Chicago in March, and we spent $30 eating at Panera (that's twice as much for the same meal at a Panera in the far suburbs). At the Taste, for the same $30, we got 2 meals, dessert, and snacks. The Taste of Chicago is by far the more economical food option for a tourist from the suburbs, and you get to eat a lot of different things.

It’s not a true “taste” of Chicago.
Again, this is not geared towards locals. As a resident of the far suburbs, I will never have an excuse to spend the time or money to travel to the various neighborhoods where these restaurants are physically located. My only opportunity to visit them is at the Taste, where I have the wonderful opportunity to get African, Vietnamese, Chinese, and many other ethic foods all in one place.

I'm praying the Taste turned a profit in 2013 so that it will continue for many years to come.

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