Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Festival Season in the Suburbs

Finally, a non-review post!

Looking for some great things to do this summer? Chicago itself has no shortage of festivals, all summer long. But so do the suburbs.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you know of more, feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments.

This is starting with June, since May is nearly over...

12-14: Free! Pride of the Fox RiverFest in St. Charles
19-20: Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Oak Brook
20-21: Free! Cantigny Fine Art Festival in Wheaton
20-21: Custer's Last Stand Festival of the Arts in Evanston
23-28: Free! Swedish Days Midsommer Festival in Geneva
25-28: Bloomington Gold Corvette Show in St. Charles
26-28: Free! Long Grove Strawberry Festival
27-28: Fountain Square Art Festival in Evanston
27-28: Free! Glencoe Festival of the Masters

1-5: Free! Eyes to the Skies Balloon Festival in Lisle
2-5: Ribfest in Naperville
3-5: Free! Wheeling Freedom Fest
4: Lake Forest Festival and Fireworks
9-12: Free! West Chicago Railroad Days
10-11: Taste of Park Ridge
11-12: Free! Art in the Park - A Northbrook Fine Arts Festival
11-12: Free! Skokie Art Fair
11-Sept. 7: Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha, Wis.
11-12: Free! Lincolnshire Art Festival
15-19: Kane County Fair in St. Charles
17-19: The Big Greek Food Festival of Niles
18-19: Free! Buffalo Grove Invitational Fine Art Festival
18-19: Free! Ethnic Arts Festival in Evanston
22-26: DuPage County Fair in Wheaton
25-26: North Shore Festival of Art in Skokie
28-Aug. 2: Lake County Fair in Grayslake
29-Aug. 2: Kankakee County Fair
30-Aug. 2: Kendall County Fair and 4H Show in Yorkville

1-2: Free! Evanston Lakeshore Arts Festival
6-9: Free! Mendota Sweet Corn Festival
8-9: Free! Art at the Glen in Glenview
8-9: Free! Kite Festival in Glencoe
14-23: Illinois State Fair in Springfield
15-16: Free! Long Grove Art and Wine Fest
15-16: Free! Malott Japanese Garden Summer Festival in Glencoe
26-30: Will County Fair in Peotone
28-30: Free! Taste of Highland Park
29-30: Free! Port Clinton Art Festival in Highland Park

3-7: Free! Tri-County Fair in Mendota
4-7: The Last Fling in Naperville
5-7: Free! Long Grove Irish Days
5-7: Free! Schaumburg Septemberfest
9-13: Sandwich Fair
11-13: Free! Oktoberfest in Glenview
11-13: Free! Festival of the Vine, Geneva

For more information, towns' chamber of commerce websites or a quick google can be helpful :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time for tacos? Taqueria El Sol Del Pueblo, Bensenville

Despite living pretty close to Bensenville, we don't go that direction much. Which is too bad, since I know B-ville has its share of good places to go too.

But on Friday we decided to check out a taqueria we've passed many times -- Taqueria El Sol Del Pueblo, 1221 W Irving Park Rd.

Located just barely east of the Route 83 overpass, at the corner of a strip mall, this taqueria is brightly painted and warmly decorated. Warm reds, yellows and oranges cover the walls, and the ten or so booths are pretty comfortable. There's also a counter for take-out.

It's a taqueria, so don't expect fancy. Each table has two salsa bottles and you get free pickled veggies (gringa that I am, I don't know the name for the marinated jalapenos, carrots, garlic, onions etc that many taquerias serve). Chips aren't free, but since everything is so cheap it's worth ordering a basket if you want to showcase the (fairly spicy) salsa, which comes in two varieties: medium salsa verde (tons of cilantro flavor) and spicy salsa roja (and boy was it spicy, but with great flavor).

The menu is fairly simple; tacos (served the RIGHT way with just cilantro and onions), burritos, quesadillas, tortas, etc. Lots of agua fresca and smoothies. Lots of Mexican soda.

I got one of the few dinners they do offer, a flauta platter (two cheese, two chicken) that came with rice & beans. My husband got tacos, a chorizo and two beef. My flautas were crispy and hot, the rice was delicious, the beans were above average. The tacos looked great and my husband devoured them.

The food was all fresh, hot, and made right. Service was pretty good; though not five-star they were very friendly. They offer some more obscure meats, like tongue, chitterlings and goat (yep, goat). I won't be trying the goat, but I do want to try more tacos, their guacamole, and probably some agua fresca. They also have Mexican breakfasts.

We'll definitely be back to El Sol Del Pueblo the next time a taco craving hits :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When life gets Zooey... Cosley Zoo, Wheaton, IL

Like most people around Chicago, I knew of Lincoln Park Zoo (free, but difficult to get to from the 'burbs and parking is expensive). I knew of the Brookfield Zoo (easier to get to, but you pay for parking and admission). I never knew there was a zoo in Wheaton until a couple weeks ago.

The Cosley Zoo, 1356 N Gary Ave., Wheaton, is small, pretty and FREE. Yep. Free. They do accept donations, so if you feel compelled to give a few dollars they will gladly take it.

It's not very big, and it's not very fancy. But it is nicely maintained, with lots of pretty trees and some cool animals. I believe they're all North American -- a rare cream draft horse, various birds of prey, turtles, peacocks, foxes, a coyote, chickens and cows and what not. I liked seeing the owls -- some of them are tiny!

There's a picnic area, and a snack bar/gift shop. Other than that, it's just a nice little walk through the park to look at and read about various animals, plus educational activities for little ones. I would say best for kids 10 and under, though older kids might be entertained for a half hour or so. Which really, you don't need more than an hour, maybe 90 minutes here, unless the kid in your life really loves goats or something.

Still, it's quite pretty, easy to find, and a nice way to kill some time on a warm afternoon in the 'burbs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

We love our chips and salsa -- La Estancia, Bloomingdale

The husband and I are real Mexican food fans. I for one have been devouring salsa at a rapid clip since childhood, and the man of the house never met a burrito he didn't like (well, that's not entirely true, but).

Of course, in the US you tend to get bland, Americanized versions, especially at large chains. Or, you get "Tex Mex," which is a tasty varietal all its own, but not really authentic.

We had passed La Estancia, 237 E Lake St in Bloomingdale, multiple times. And we had a coupon. (Hey, we love a good deal.) So when cravings for tacos hit on Saturday, we decided to give it a whirl.

The restaurant is nicely decorated, with lots of rich wood tones and Diego Rivera-esque paintings full of calla lilies. The waitress was a bit slow to approach our table the first time, but provided us with good service thereafter.

The chips and salsa -- always a good indicator of how the rest of the meal might go -- were a nice surprise, with crunchy, warm, thicker corn tortilla chips as opposed to the thin-and-crispy flour variety. The salsa was thick but not chunky, clinging to the chips well and with just the right amount of heat and a great flavor.

The menu had a nice variety on it, and I was pleased to see arroz con pollo, which every Latino grandma makes but is uncommon at Mexican restaurants. My husband had some sort of combination platter -- I think it included an enchilada and a chimichanga. He reported it all being very tasty. I hemmed and hawed and decided on steak burritos -- naturally I got three slightly smaller ones instead of one gargantuan one. The steak was tender, and it was filled with onions, peppers, beans and cheese. The rice was good enough; the refried beans on the side were nothing special.

All in all, prices were reasonable, the food was tasty, and man did I enjoy that salsa. While I'd still choose Laredo's Embassy of Mexican food first, it's a pain to get to. La Estancia, on the other hand, is an easy trip and very good in its own right. If you're looking for quality Mexican in Bloomingdale, I can recommend it.