Whether you’re entertaining out of town guests or you’d just like to be a hometown tourist, Chicago Food Tours is a unique way to explore neighborhoods off the beaten path while sampling delicious Chicago cuisine.
Earlier this month, I was invited to experience their Bucktown/Wicker Park “food tasting and cultural walking tour”. Admittedly, I’d already been to nearly every stop on the tour, but there were a few that were new to me, plus I was interested in the cultural portion…there’s a lot about my neighborhood I don’t know. So Chicago history, architecture and food in one tour? Sold!
We met our guide, Kent, at George’s Hot Dogs on Damen where we were treated to a delicious Chicago style dog. Is this a good time to confess that I like ketchup on my hot dog? No? Ok, forget I said anything. With a fire station across the street keeping quality in check (how do those guys always find the best food?), George’s has been a neighborhood favorite and family-owned since 1948.
Kent then led us on a culinary whirlwind including:
Hot Chocolate on Damen (you’ll never want powdered cocoa again after drinking their decadent hot chocolate), Goddess & Grocer to sample pasta salad and browse their gourmet grocery offerings, Piece for a New Haven style “white pizza” and house-brewed lager, and Sultan’s Market for some delicious falafel. Established in 1985 as convenience store, owner May Ramli of Jordan one day offered homemade hummus to her customers, and found it was wildly popular. In 1995, Sultan’s was reborn as a Middle Eastern restaurant. The low prices and filling meals make it a popular choice for lunch.
Between each restaurant, Kent shared stories of Wicker Park’s famous – and infamous – residents, pointed out architectural details of the mansions on “Beer Baron Row”, and relayed colorful moments in history. Did you know former Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski once gave a public piano concert on the porch of a Wicker Park home? Neither did I!
Our last stop was iCream, a futuristic ice cream shop where they use not rock salt and ice, but liquid nitrogen to make ice cream on demand. You’re in charge of picking every aspect of your ice cream, which results in thousands of possible combinations (my personal fave is coffee with Nutella and almonds). Both kids and adults love watching the liquid nitrogen rise from the bank of specially designed mixers. Not many ice cream shops can offer a dramatic science lesson with your cone!
In addition to the Bucktown tour, Chicago Food Tours also offers a Near North tour, highlighting the Gold Coast, Old Town, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, as well as private tours. Tours run 7 days a week April through November, cost $42 each, and are approximately 3 hours long.
If you go, remember these tips:
- Wear good walking shoes! There are only a few opportunities to sit down during the tour.
- Dress for the weather. Tours run rain or shine.
- Bring a camera, bring questions, bring your appetite! (No need for lunch that day, but do eat a small breakfast.)
- If you enjoyed your tour, tip your guide.