If you can smell the nopales (cactus) tacos and hear the cry of vendors hawking everything from car tires to pungent spices, you're probably close to the Maxwell Street Market, which is one of Chicago's greatest treasures. Located less than a mile southwest of The Loop, the weekly Maxwell Street Market has been an institution for over 130 years and a place for new arrivals from all over the world to set up their wares to sell every Sunday from 7am to 3pm, come rain or shine.
Admission if FREE, and here are 3 more reasons to plan your Sunday around Maxwell Street Market, which spans everything from stellar street food to dirt cheap soccer jerseys.
Reason #3: The Shopping
The caravan of goods at the Market is the stuff of legend, as you might find an informal Mexican spice house next to another vendor selling supplies for journeymen carpenters and building engineers. Every vendor has their own style and cadence, and the best part might be the fact that bartering, haggling, or whatever you want to call it is encouraged. It's hard to imagine that type of encounter at a big box retailer or when buying airplane tickets. Also, if you offer to buy in bulk, sometimes vendors are more likely to snap up your offer.
Reason #2: The Performers
Another part of the Maxwell Street experience are the diverse set of performers you might encounter on any given Sunday. While the market is closely associated with the rise of Chicago's electrified blues tradition, today you can experience mariachi, informal clown performances, folk, and more. And if you enjoy what you hear, why not toss a few dollars their way?
Reason #1 to go to Maxwell Street Market: the food!
The food here? It is nothing short of remarkable as you can pick up a deluxe pina colada (yes, it comes in the pineapple like the one pictured above) and wander around to a veritable cornucopia of tacos, huraches, quesadillas, and other Mexican delicacies.
While the old soul food standbys that would have been commonplace a few decades ago are hard to find, you can always slide over to Jim's Original (1250 S. Union) after for a few dogs, ribs, and more.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Rubi's, which has garnered a number of accolades over the past few years. It's a modest sized taqueria right in the middle of the market that featured tacos of all stripes, including those with nopales, beef, pork, mushrooms, and other delicacies. Everyone there is most welcoming and I'd give the nod to the steak with cactus tacos and a quesadilla or two with green peppers.
Take the afternoon to continue your wanderings as you might find that old DVD you've been looking for along with that Chivas soccer jersey. Oh, one quick reminder: most of the vendors just take cash, so make sure and stop by an ATM machine before coming out for the day.
The Essentials – Maxwell Street Market
800 S. Desplaines St. Chicago, IL 60607
Weekly every Sunday, year-round
7am - 3pm
M is for Maxwell Street is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Check out the past posts and stay tuned for more entries.
Additional image credits: Max Grinnell