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- Public transportation is by far the best way to get to Taste. If you must drive, arrive early; the Grant Park and Monroe Drive parking lots fill up quickly. Or consider parking in a remote lot and riding one of the free trolleys to the Taste site. Consult www.transitchicago.com or www.metrarail.com.
- Taste of Chicago runs Friday through July 9 in Grant Park, along Columbus Drive between Monroe and Balbo drives. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, except July 3, when Taste closes at 9:30 p.m., and July 9, when Taste closes at 8 p.m.
- Admission is free to Taste, but to eat or drink anything, you must pay with Taste tickets, which are sold in sheets of 11 for $7. On Thursday, however, you can purchase tickets at any Dominick's grocery store (with your Dominick's Fresh Values card) for just $5.50 per sheet. Starting Friday, tickets will be full price at Dominick's stores and at the on-site ticket booths.
- For more Taste information than you can possibly use, visit www.cityofchicago.org/specialevents. It's a well-organized, easy-to-use site.
- Bring some cash. The ticket booths do accept credit cards, but if the credit-card system crashes (and it has in previous years), visitors without cash are temporarily out of luck. At the very least, bring an ATM card; several ATMs are on site.
- There are 62 vendors at Taste this year; most items cost between five and nine tickets. Each vendor, however, sells at least one food item in a Taste portion, for one to three tickets. It's the most economical way of trying lots of different food without going broke or exploding.
- Another way to economize is to share full-size Taste items. A small paring knife is a useful tool for divvying up ribs, pizza slices, hot dogs, etc.
- The Daily Special Pavilion, formerly known as the Gourmet Dining Pavilion, is essentially a Taste booth that changes identities each day. It's also where you'll find the most reliably good food. Friday it will be wagyu-beef sliders (mini burgers) and banana-bread pudding from Saloon Steakhouse; Wednesday you'll find grilled pesto-shrimp skewers with grape tomatoes and garlic crostini from Deleece; and on July 7 there will be blackened tamarind ribs and mango cardamom flan from Vermilion.
- Also check out the Dominick's Cooking Corner, next to Buckingham Fountain, for cooking demonstrations by local chefs. Not into the cooking thing? No matter. There's room to sit and plenty of shade.
- Get a map and plot your strategy. The maps are available wherever tickets are sold.
- The best way to avoid the crowds is to visit between peak lunch and dinner hours. This advice is not valid on July 3, Taste's busiest day, when the only way to avoid the crowds is to stay home and miss the fireworks display.
- When my children were young, I always toted a Radio Flyer wagon to Taste. It's great for holding picnic blankets, bottled water, umbrellas and various sundries. And when the kids got tired, they could ride. (I realize that this tip is incompatible with my first tip. Sue me.)
- Bring hand sanitizer. Soap is the first thing to run out at those wash stations by the portable toilets. Premoistened towelettes come in handy, too.
- Don't forget the sunscreen.
Phil Vettel is the Chicago Tribune restaurant critic.