Here's everything you need to know about Taste of Chicago, which returns to Grant Park Wednesday and runs through July 14.
1. The first Taste of Chicago was a one-day event that took place on July 4, 1980. It subsequently grew into a 10-day (and occasionally 11-day) food and wine festival that was a huge financial success for years.
But lately, Taste has been a money-loser (though one could argue that the value of an event that draws tens of thousands of visitors to the city exceeds its bottom line), and so last year the city cut the festival to its current five-day length. The number of food vendors, in previous years reaching 60 and more, has also been trimmed to a more-manageable 35.
2. The hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to July 12, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 13 and 14.
3. Admission to Taste is free, and all concert performances are free. General-admission concert seating for the Petrillo Music Shell headliner shows are $25 (and still available as of press time), but it's still free to stake out a patch of lawn and watch.
4. Purchase food and beverage tickets, priced at $8 for 12 tickets (50 cents per ticket, plus the always-popular $2 amenity fee) and available at booths throughout the Taste grounds. Tip: Through Tuesday, you can buy tickets for just $7 per sheet at Dominicks' Finer Foods stores (you need a Fresh Values card). Food prices vary considerably, but "Taste portion" items, priced at five tickets apiece, are available at all food vendors.
5. New to Taste this year: Food trucks, which can be found on the concrete path east of the Petrillo lawn. There will be seven trucks out daily (six on July 14), serving food beginning at 4:30 p.m. (3 p.m. on July 14). Among the 13 participants: Beavers Coffee & Donuts, The Fat Shallot, Giordano's, Ice Cubed, The Jerk, Taquero Fusion.
6. Eating healthy? Look for the green-apple icons, denoting items that have met Humana Healthier Choices guidelines (fewer than 320 calories, 300 milligrams sodium and 2 grams saturated fat for appetizers and desserts, fewer than 500 calories, 500 mg sodium and 4 g saturated fat for mains).
7. Don't miss: Taste veterans Carbon Mexican Grill, Eli's Cheesecake, BJ's Market & Bakery, Iyanze, Lou Malnati's, Original Rainbow Cone, Smoke Daddy and Wishbone. Newcomers with promise: Bombay Spice Grill, Flip Crepes, Lao Ma La.
8. Check out the pop-up booths (booths 23-26), which feature a different restaurant lineup every day. Look for Hearty on Wednesday and July 11, Pecking Order July 11 and 12, and Terzo Piano July 13 and 14.
9. The Chef du Jour tent, each day featuring a celebrity chef serving three-course meals for $40 in air-conditioned, tented comfort, is virtually sold out, but tickets remain for the July 13 brunch (noon) featuring Gale Gand and Hearty boys Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh.
10. For a full list of vendors, site map, concert lineup and more information, log on to tasteofchicago.us.