When people think of food in Chicago, they tend to think of pizza, hot dogs, Italian beefs and such, but one often-overlooked Chicago food specialty is gourmet popcorn. People who live in and around Chicago know that popcorn is something we take seriously--so much so that we've even got our own "Chicago mix" of caramel and cheese popcorn carried by all the best local vendors. Speaking of vendors, there are quite a few places to get fine gourmet popcorn in Chicago and they are all good, but there are a few that really stand out.
Garrett's is the first name that people think of when they think of popcorn in Chicago and it is even pretty well known around the world. Founded in Chicago in 1949, Garrett Popcorn Shops claims to be the first to deliver the "Chicago Mix", although they naturally call it the "Garrett Mix." The Garrett name is now attached to a dozen shops in the Chicagoland area, a half dozen more across the country, and several locations across Asia. The secret to their success is in their hand-crafted mixes and hot air popped popcorn.
For anyone who's ever been to a Chicago Cub's game, and for most who have even seen one on TV, Nuts on Clark is a pretty familiar name. Located two blocks north of Wrigley Field, they now even sell their delicious popcorn inside the ballpark, as well as in Soldier Field and a few other locations around the Chicago area. As they name indicates, this store doesn't just sell popcorn--they offer a wide selection of gourmet nuts, as well. This double specialty allows them to create some interesting popcorn and nut combinations that you can't always find at other popcorn shops.
Chicago Kernel is well known among Chicago commuters. Located in Millennium Station, Chicago Kernel knows how to win customers--they occasionally give free samples to hungry travelers passing by. Once they taste the delicious variety fresh-popped flavors available, it's no wonder that you often see the same traveler the next day with a big colorful tin of Chicago Kernel popcorn. Of course their most popular tins are the larger tins of two gallons or more, that could keep you snacking through a pretty long trip.
Wells Street Popcorn has a slightly different approach to popcorn than many of their Chicago competitors; rather than offer many different varieties of popcorn, they stick to just a few basic varieties: caramel, cheese, kettle corn and mixes of these. As you would expect, they claim to be the very best at these varieties, and many of their customers would agree. They have three locations, including the original Wells Street location in Chicago and two suburban locations in Oak Park and Downers Grove.
The biggest complaint customers have about Highland Pop Gourmet Popcorn and Fudge Shop is that their success has inspired them to move a couple of times to bigger or nicer locations in the north suburb of Highland Park, sometimes making them a little hard to find. The good news is that their delicious popcorn, especially their "Highland Park" mix or cheddar and caramel popcorn, is now available from several local grocers.
When snacking in Chicago, remember that popcorn is not a food to be taken lightly. With so many wonderful gourmet popcorn shops around, Chicago gives a wonderful opportunity to take your popcorn enjoyment to the next level.