Chicago is rightly known as a food city, but street food can be a hard thing to find. Until recently, food trucks were all but outlawed in the city, and strict regulations made even food carts a rare sight. Things are finally changing and the street food culture is thriving again in Chicago. Here are the six best places for a quick and delicious meal on the streets of Chicago.
1. Chicago food trucks around The Loop
Until fairly recently, food trucks were almost nonexistent in Chicago. These days, luckily, there are some really great trucks dishing up tacos, empanadas, doughnuts, grilled cheese, Korean, sandwiches, Cajun, etc. The majority of trucks tend to congregate around the Loop area for lunch during the week. Check out the map tool on Roaming Hunger to find exactly where different food trucks are or are scheduled to be tomorrow.
2. Maxwell Street Polish at Jim’s Original
The Maxwell Street Market was a huge open-air flea market where Chicagoans came together to buy and sell just about anything under the sun. The market was the birthplace of the Polish sausage, served Maxwell Street-style on a bun with yellow mustard, grilled onions, and optional sport peppers to add a little heat. In 1994, most of the market closed to make way for an expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today you can get the best Maxwell Street Polish by the original market at Jim’s Original at 1250 S. Union Avenue.
3. Puerto Rican food in Humboldt Park
Humboldt Park is a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood that is gentrifying quickly. The huge park in the center of the neighborhood has some of the city’s oldest food trucks. The trucks serve up Puerto Rican specialties, such as morcilla (delicious blood sausage), arroz con gandules (yellow rice with pigeon peas), and lechon (roast pork). Also be sure to try jibaritos, an eccentric sandwich that uses smashed and fried plantains instead of bread.
4. Chicago-style hot dog at Relish
The hot dog is the ubiquitous, on-the-go street food for a lot of places, but Chicago does them better than anywhere else. Unfortunately, because of strict laws, there are no hot dog carts on the street corner. One exception to the licensing laws is city parks where hot dog carts and stands are allowed to serve up their delicious specialty. If you’re around the Millennium Park area and looking for your hot dog fix, head to
5. Elotes in the park
A classic Chicago street food, elotes are Mexican-style corn on the cob. The men who sell them are called eloteros, and you’ll see them pushing their carts around and dishing up their corny goodness. Elotes are usually served with some combination of butter, mayonnaise, cheese (often from a can), salt, and chili powder. If you don’t think that sounds good, think again. It’s amazing. They also serve delicious mangos, cut up and hit with lime juice, a little salt, and chili powder. You’ll generally find eloteros in Latino neighborhoods like Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, and along Clark Street in Rogers Park. Within those neighborhoods, parks are usually the best place to look.
6. The Tamale Guy at the bar
The Tamale Guy is a Chicago legend who, every night, makes his way around Chicago’s bars serving up delicious Mexican-style tamales. In reality, there are a few different tamale guys. Some say Claudio is the original, and you can identify him by his red Igloo cooler full of steaming hot tamales. The tamales have a filling of either pork, chicken, or cheese and are packed in with cornmeal and lard, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. One order is very filling and they come with homemade salsa verde or salsa roja. The best way to find the Tamale Guy is to just sit in one bar and wait for him (although there is a Tamale Tracker) on Twitter. The whole thing is brilliant in an illegal, underground economy sort of way. The Tamale Guys only go to bars that aren’t serving food, and most bars don’t mind since the spicy, salty, and savory tamales can only help beer sales.