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CHICAGO — Summer in Chicago is all about the festivals, and the city's biggest food fest is only a couple of days away.

The 38th Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park with live music, cooking demonstrations, a new VIP Taste Oasis, and, of course, booths upon booths of food.

This year's fest welcomes 26 newcomers, so there's a lot to explore even if you're a Taste pro. For those looking for a Taste experience that's quintessentially Chicago, we've rounded up a few restaurants that serve up classic Chicago fare and have a deep Chicago history. Get out, eat up and have fun.

Five-day restaurants

Arun's Thai Restaurant

4156 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-539-1909

You may not think of Thai as a Chicago food the same way you think of Italian beef and Chicago-style dogs, but the critically acclaimed Arun's has been around since 1985. Chef Arun Sampanthavivat won a James Beard Award for Best Chef in 2000, and Arun's Thai comes to the Taste for the first time this year.

Billy Goat Tavern

1535 W. Madison St., 312-733-9132

The Goat has been grilling up its famous "cheezborgers" for 84 years and holds a special place in the hearts of Chicago journalists. The legendary 1978 "Saturday Night Live" sketch with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi put a national spotlight on the burger joint, but it's still a true Chicago classic. Don't spend all your tickets in one place, but plan to go for a double cheezeborger -- and don't even think about asking for a side of fries.

Buona Beef

613 N. McClurg Court, 312-643-0677

OK, so Buona is technically a Chicagoland classic, as the original location opened in 1981 in Berwyn. In recent years, though, the chain expanded to Chicago with locations in Beverly and Streeterville, and the beef is served at Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate Field and Soldier Field. The restaurant's Italian beef sandwiches were last spotted at the Taste in 2009, but the thin, peppery slivers of beef are back to please your taste buds this year.

Eli's Cheesecake

6701 W. Forest Preserve Drive, 773-205-3800

Eli Schulman created his eponymous dessert at Eli's the Place for Steak, a Streeterville restaurant that opened in 1966. The cheesecake debuted to the public at the first Taste of Chicago in 1980, and Eli's has returned to the food festival every year since. Expect to see Eli's original plain cheesecake with strawberries on the menu, plus some special flavor selections.

Gold Coast Dogs

225 S. Canal St.

From the custom-made Vienna Beef links to the Alpha Baking Company poppy seed bun, nothing says Chicago like a Chicago-style hot dog. The first Gold Coast Dogs opened in 1985, and now you'll find everything from char dogs to polish sausages to Italian beefs on the menu. Try a Chicago-style dog, opt for jumbo or go for a Maxwell Street sausage. Either way, you'll be able eat and walk around Grant Park without making a mess.

Lou Malnati's

805 S. State St., 312-786-1000

Deep-dish pizza can be pretty divisive -- keep your shade to yourself, New Yorkers -- but you can't talk about classic Chicago food without talking about our pizza. Malnati's has been serving slices with its signature flaky crust since it opened in Lincolnwood, Ill., in 1971, and the restaurant is also a Taste vet -- it's been at every Taste of Chicago except the inaugural fest. It's not easy to walk and talk with a slice of cheesy, tomato-y deep dish in hand, so you might want to snag a seat before you go to town.

Original Rainbow Cone

9233 S. Western Ave., 773-238-7075

The Original Rainbow Cone has been a South Side institution since 1926, as well as a Taste regular for more than 30 years. The ice cream shop took the last three years of the festival off, but is back this year with its stacked cone of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House and pistachio ice creams topped with orange sherbet. With a (hopefully) warm forecast and sizable crowd creating extra body heat, you'll be grateful for the sweet cool down.


252 W. 26th St., 312-225-5555

In Season 7, Episode 2 of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," chef Bourdain (may he rest in peace) declared, "There's no delicate way to eat this. You just hoist and go. ... That is a thing of beauty. And tasty."

He was talking about Ricobene's legendary breaded steak sandwich, a Tribune best bet for the 2017 Taste. The Bridgeport restaurant, established in 1946, has lots of other menu options -- including pizza, pasta, and wings -- but it's known for the gargantuan steak. Dig in.

Robinson's No. 1 Ribs

225 S. Canal St.

Proprietor Charlie Robinson's ribs beat columnist Mike Royko's -- another Chicago classic -- at Royko's Ribfest in the early 1980s. Royko later wrote:

"There was the great Charlie Robinson, a black entrepreneur who works his massive grill with the virtuosity of a concert pianist, and has a secret sauce that goes back to plantation days."

Robinson went on to open his Oak Park restaurant, and these days you'll spot the familiar red logo at festivals throughout the city. Swing by the booth if you're craving saucy rib tips.

Food Trucks


Multiple locations

Giordano's has been the official pizza of the Cubs and Wrigley Field since 2014, but it opened on Chicago's South Side back in 1974. The crust is softer and less flaky than the crust you'll get at Lou Malnati's, but it's still deep-dish and our earlier suggestion to sit and eat stands. Do you, though.

Harold's Chicken

Multiple locations

Harold's has been a South Side staple since founder Harold Pierce opened the first location on 47th Street in 1950. Now, with nearly 20 locations in Illinois alone, you'll find slightly different variations of the fried chicken and mild sauce at different spots in the city. There's no real polite or neat way to eat wings, so you might as well eat with reckless abandon.

Lawrence's Fish & Shrimp

Multiple locations

Is there ever a reason to turn down good fried shrimp? Lawrence Schweig opened the first Lawrence's Fish & Shrimp on Canal Street in 1950, where you can now get popcorn shrimp, coconut shrimp and other seafood 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shrimp is perfectly portable, so grab a taste and keep it moving to your next food destination.

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