Cheap Thrills: Maxwell Street Market

A guide to Chicago's historic street food market

"I love street food, and this is the best that Chicago has," says Yescenia Mota, program coordinator of Chicago's city-run street and farmers' markets.

She's referring to a three-block stretch of Desplains St. in the South Loop. Each Sunday, it's overtaken by stands selling tacos, elotes and huaraches; tomatillos, nopales and dried chiles; all interspersed with tables of clothes, candy and bric-a-brac.

In its 101st year, Maxwell Street Market is as bustling as ever. And, unlike any other market in town, it's open outdoors, year-round. As the season for street fests and outdoor farmers' markets wanes, look to Maxwell Street:  "You'll be amazed who shows up in December. It's 20 below and snowing and it's still packed," says Mota.

Hit her four favorite market stalls, leaving room for a fried-dough finale from the Xoco-Churro truck.

Al pastor and tacos at Rubi's

Rubi's: Overheard while waiting in an epic line for Rubi's Rick Bayless-approved tacos: "Vale la pena [it's worthwhile]. These tacos are the best." Mota gets carne asada or al pastor ($3 each).

Manolo's: Order headily spiced mole rojo with braised pork atop a huarache ($4.50), a long, wide corn tortilla pressed with black beans inside.

Manolo's mole rojo

Pupusas Mama Lula: Load Salvadoran pupusas (thick, stuffed maize tortilla, $2 each) with vinegary cabbage slaw and red chile sauce and dig in–forks optional.

La Paz: This stall's chicharron en salsa verde taco is Mota's favorite thing at the market, with fried pork rinds simmered in piquant green sauce.

Pupusas Mama Lula