Updated June 14, 2018
Summertime in Chicago — once it truly arrives — is a joy, filled with sunshine, lake breezes, and general good vibes. And no city does outdoor festivals quite like us, especially in terms of sheer volume. We understand the importance of food; in general, we don’t shy away from calories, fried food, or gluten. Chicagoans are eaters, and where we most like to eat is outside, whether at a sporting event, concert, or even on a day-to-day basis. So, it’s no surprise that the Chicago area is home to so many food festivals, celebrating the bounty of our outstanding restaurants, local farms, and artisanal breweries and distilleries. Here’s a list of some of the best yet to come this summer (and early fall), and we’ve listed them in chronological order so you can start planning now and slotting them into your schedules. Get a move on!
What better place to start the outdoor food-fest season than on Restaurant Row? For the 22nd year, Randolph Street is throwing a party, and everyone is invited! Neighborhood favorites Bar Siena, bellyQ, Forno Rosso, MAD Social, Publican Quality Meats, and more will be selling their wares, and the music will be, as they say, off the chain. I’m a Mayer Hawthorne fan, myself.
Continue your food-fest binge with this family-friendly gathering. The South Loop is home to this fun event, and you can expect to see all of your favorite trucks, including Cheesie’s, Da Lobsta, Izakaya Yume Sushi Truck, La Cocinita, Tamale Spaceship and The Fat Shallot. It’s a crazy comprehensive lineup of the city’s favorite food trucks.
June 29 to July 1
The Uptown nabe, specifically Lawrence and Broadway, is home to this 10-year veteran of the food-fest scene. Get ready for Independence Day by eating your weight in tasty barbecue ribs (including slabs from Chicago BBQ Co., Robinson’s Ribs, Austin’s Texas Lightning BBQ, and more), filling sides (beans, corn, slaw, etc.), and icy beverages, just right for a summer weekend.
The Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club organizes this annual fundraiser held on the ground of the spectacular Charles Gates Dawes House overlooking Lake Michigan. More than 40 of Evanston’s best restaurants, breweries, and wine shops join in the fun as they celebrate all that the city has to offer. Most of this year’s proceeds will benefit Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corporation, which provides safe and affordable housing. Look for favorites like Hewn, Mt. Everest, NaKorn, Farmhouse, Boltwood, Edzo’s, LuLu’s, Hecky’s, Sketchbook Brewing, and Vinic Wine among other local partners.
This is the granddaddy of them all, the brainchild of the late, great Arnie Morton, the legendary restaurateur. Held in July each year, it’s five full days of eating at food booths, local food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and live music in Grant Park. Every Chicagoan should go at least once in their life!
River North comes alive with this confluence of country music, great barbecue, and lots of ice-cold beer. Over three days of excess, there’s everything from a “Sweatout” group cycle class fundraiser and a tequila mixology class to a Crawfish Boil and a BBQ Brunch. Celebrated pitmasters from Texas, Nashville, Charleston, Brooklyn, and more will be cooking up a storm, and there will be craft beer from all over the country. Yee-haw!
This is one of the hippest events around. Each summer, more than 100 of Chicago’s top chefs and craft beverage suppliers set up shop on the south end of Lincoln Park, offering tasting portions of summer-forward dishes featuring the local and sustainable produce, meat, and dairy products found at the market. Carnivores and herbivores alike will find plenty to like here, and when the weather is cooperating, it’s like the best picnic ever. Pray for sun! Proceeds go to GCM’s educational programs.
The Chicago River is the backdrop for this annual food and music happening. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, True Food Kitchen, Pink Taco, Maggiano’s, and Bella Luna are just a few of the local restaurants that will be making the scene. Worried about your waistline with all this deliciousness? The East Bank Club will be hosting a special morning workout.
Your sodium levels might not thank you, but the rest of you will be quite pleased at this classic event, where “celebrity” judges (I’ve done it a few times, hence the quotation marks) taste their way through a bevy of outrageously garnished Bloody Marys to determine the winner. Expect lots of sun, fun, great food, and a lot of tomato juice.
The Chicago History Museum celebrates Chicago’s favorite encased meats and their historical impact for the sixth year, and let’s be frank (love that tagline!), it’s a genius concept. For the sixth year, enjoy some of the best local music around while sampling hot dogs of every stripe and topping combination that you can imagine. Last year included offerings from Byron’s Hot Dogs, Chicago’s Dog House, Downtown Dogs, Smilin’ Dawgs, Edzo’s, and more. Proceeds benefit the museum.
Aug. 31 to Sept. 2
No, the lobsters aren’t from Lake Michigan, silly! But for the fifth year, Navy Pier will be the site of the Midwest’s biggest lobster festival, and they’re flying them in fresh from the East Coast. You can go with the Lobster Meal Experience (comes with potato, corn, and your choice of whole lobster or lobster roll) or the VIP treatment, which adds drink tickets and access to the Peroni VIP Lounge and the Devon Seafood Grill Sampling Experience. Live music, drinks, and all the fun. Pinch yourself!
Bon Appetit magazine is the presenting sponsor for what has become a highly anticipated series of events, with food from all of Chicago’s top restaurants and vendors. The main event, held in Millennium Park, lasts only the weekend, but it is joined by a plethora of super-cool parties and culinary happenings (Hamburger Hop, Late-Night Gourmet, Grand Cru, and more). During the festival, enjoy tastings, live demos, and seminars. An extraordinary culinary opportunity.
Sept. 29 to Oct. 1
It’s time to wrap up the outdoor food-fest season with this blowout, a nod to Chicago’s once-large Bavarian population. Held at Lincoln Park’s St. Alphonsus for the 17th year, it’s three days of beer steins, brats, and local bands. There’s a Craft Beer Night on Friday and Saturday, and you can become a “Brewmaster” (for a price, of course!) and enjoy all sorts of fun perks, including a commemorative 2018 Oktoberfest stein. Haul out your lederhosen and head on over!
More from Make It Better:
- Chicago’s 16 Best Places for Chicken
- 30 of the Best Things to Do in Chicago This June
- Sound Bites: Where to Eat at Ravinia’s New Dining Pavilion
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.