Celebrating 20 years of Chicago’s Best Wingfest: Give me wings, glorious wings!

Tamarindo chicken wings served by Estrella Negra at 2019 Chicago’s Best Wingfest

What’s the magic formula for perfect chicken wings? I don’t know about you, but the first thing I notice when eating one is the texture. As I bite into it, I expect it to be moist and delicate, with an almost melt-in-your mouth quality. Once that’s done, the flavor kicks in: I expect it to be a little bit on the spicy side, and fully developed, encompassing several layers of surprising elements. What’s my absolute no-no? The freezer burn taste. I’ve tasted it before – never again, tyvm!

If you’re still unsure what kind of chicken wings you like, how about you try a lot? I reckon the best way to do it is to check out Chicago’s Best Wingfest next year. With so many wings to discover, you’re bound to find a favorite, have a fab time with your loved ones – and maybe even win some prizes in their famous wing eating competition 😉

Chicago’s Best Wingfest is one of Windy City’s most popular food fests, and this year marked its 20th anniversary celebration. The event was held at Credit Union 1 Arena for the third year in a row, to accommodate the continued growth of one of the nation’s longest running festivals.

This year’s edition brought together more than 3,000 chicken wing lovers, who enjoyed 9,000 plus pounds of wings made by chefs from over 40 different restaurants!

The chefs competed for various prizes including the Best of Fest, and the Best Mild, Hot, BBQ and Exotic Wing awards.

As a big fan of chicken wings and of this event (check out my review of last year’s festival here), I couldn’t wait to see the different takes on this perennial foodie favorite. After all, we were talking about chefs from some of Chicago’s best eateries!

The sticky sesame wings with a cilantro lime crème served by South Branch Tavern & Grille were among my favorites. They were generously coated in sauce and super tender, with just the right dose of fiery spice so as to make the tasting experience enjoyable and not overpowering (meaningless pumped-up heat with no redeeming features is the last thing I need when eating chicken wings!). These were really good:

The Korean gochujang BBQ wings served by Tap House Grill were also very good. As a big fan of gochujang, I appreciated this Asian-inspired take on chicken wings, and I found the mix of gochujang with BBQ sauce creative and effective:

If I were to pick an absolute winner for the best chicken wing flavor and presentation, I would go with Estrella Negra and their tamarindo chicken wings. I don’t know about you, but I think chicken wings are difficult to photograph simply because they look ridiculously messy sometimes (lol) With these wings and their impeccable presentation, however, taking good pics was not a problem. Not only did they look gorgeous on the plate, but they were also super flavorful and succulent – and won 2nd place in the Exotic Wings Category. Special note: You can make these at home if you wish – I found the recipe here: 😉

Here’s the obligatory pic of my plate mid-way through tasting. So many wings to try, so little time!

A special mention should be made about Flo & Santos’ pork “wings,” which are famous across Chicagoland. The pork in these tiny bites of heaven was ridiculously melt-in-your-mouth tender, the kind of tenderness you find in very few dishes at any one time. While it was not chicken per se, these pork “wings” were truly impressive in terms of flavor, texture and last but not least creative, out-of-the-box thought process:

One of the innovations introduced at this year’s festival was the Best Dressed Booth award, judged by yours truly. McWethy’s Sports Bar knocked this one out of the park with their creative use of a turkey gravy fountain!

What’s a wing fest without a wing eating competition? Unfolding under the eyes of Mister Chicken himself and benefiting from host Elliott Bambrough’s inspired interventions, the contest was a nail-biting struggle of wills where, ultimately, the veterans prevailed:

Both competitions were won by the same contestants as last year. Here’s a pic of Lady of the Wings – for two years in a row, Karla from Estrella Negra!

All in all, I had a delicious time at this year’s anniversary edition of Chicago’s Best Wingfest. I tried unusual flavors, smart dishes, and juicy tender chicken and pork. I also took notes on some of the booths I visited and will make sure to stop by those restaurants for more chicken wing awesomeness over the next few months. Check out a comprehensive list of winners, second places etc. going back to 2000 here – and see you at Wingfest 2020! 😉

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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