The best food and drink at Daley Plaza’s annual holiday market
It’s that time of year again, when the skyline lights up in red and green, Santa Claus zooms by on the holiday train during the evening commute, and “dibs” discourse reaches its fever pitch. Places all around the Chicago area are also transforming into winter wonderlands filled with German goodies thanks to the city’s annual Christkindlmarket.
In 2023, the market has returned to three locations: Daley Plaza in the Loop, Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville, and in Aurora. Each location features the staples that fans come to know and love like stacks of potato pancakes, gooey raclette, and piping hot glühwein in those charming collectible mugs (the design varies from year to year) to melt away those winter blues.
However, this year is special because Christkindlmarket is offering its first-ever beer stein, which is available for purchase at each alcohol vendor. The downtown location is also offering its inaugural fast pass that, for $25, will allow buyers to skip the often lengthy entry lines and includes a souvenir mug. Each location also has its own uniquely designed mug, so those who are especially ambitious could hit all three locations to snag them all. It’s also worth noting that a few of the food and drink vendors are cash only, so be sure to hit up an ATM before heading out to get your hot wine fix.
Here are the most magical eats at Christkindlmarket 2023, which started in November and runs through Sunday, December 24.
Red or White Glühwein in souvenir mugs
The first stop for anyone headed to Christkindlmarket should be one of the various alcohol stands for a mug of Original Sternthaler Glühwein from Nuremberg, Germany. It’s toasty and spicy — just the right drink to warm up for some shopping or listening to carolers. The market also has an apple cinnamon white wine-based glühwein too, to add a little variation to the mix, as well as an alcohol-free kinderpunsch. All three come in the annual souvenir mug, which goes for $8 individually or $25 for all three mugs in a commemorative gift box. This year’s designs feature snowy scenes of the Christkindlmarket for each location.
German beer in souvenir steins
If glühwein isn’t your cup of tea — er, wine — grab a freshly poured pint of German beer including Bitburger, Kostritzer, Erdinger Brauhaus Helles, and Erdinger Weissbrau. Ranging from lagers to pilsners, the brews are clean, crisp, and malty like a good German beer should be. The drinks should pair very nicely with a hot pretzel and the oom-pahs from the traditional polka band.
If you’re looking for an easy snack to enjoy that’s both tasty and filling, look no further than the pretzel booth. This year, market-goers can choose between six distinct styles ranging from the classic Bavarian style to more outlandish iterations, including pizza- and cheesecake-style pretzels. No matter which you choose, they’re all easy to enjoy as you meander around the market. Don’t forget to ask for spicy, savory German-style mustard for dipping, either.
The Sweet Castle is the perfect place to tuck in and warm up your hands while taking stock of all sorts of imported candies. Schulte wafers, Milka chocolate bars, Ritter Sport chocolates, and Kinder “Happy Hippo” cream-filled hippos abound, but the real treats are upfront at the counter. There, you can peruse the extensive selection of alcohol-filled truffles, in addition to roasted pecans, roasted cashews, cinnamon-roasted almonds, flavored popcorn, and more.
A quintessential central European dessert, strudel is believed to have originated in Austria. Luckily, Chicagoans don’t have to venture that far to try sticky-sweet fillings of cherry, apple, cheese, and apricot-and-almond tucked into flaky pastry dough. Biting into one of these hefty handheld desserts is sure to yield a spectacular mess of buttery flakes cascading down your overcoat, but it’s a shower of crumbs best embraced with seasonal cheer.
For the heartiest and most delicious option at Christkindlmarket, head to the southeast corner of Daley Plaza and follow the smell of the stinkiest cheese. Hop in line for some gooey raclette sandwiches, from a traditional raclette on crunchy French bread with spring onions, baby gherkins, and dijon mustard that’s vegetarian to boot, to the Alpine, which is just like the traditional but with a brat in the middle. Don’t be dissuaded by the powerful smell of the cheese — it’s amazingly mild on the sandwich.
Doughnuts, Brownies, and Other Treats
If you have a soft spot for chocolate, don’t miss the dessert booth filled with chocolate-covered doughnuts, brownies, cookies, and all sorts of chocolate confections. Easy to carry throughout the market or take home as stocking stuffers, these treats are made with care and make every bite more delicious than the last.