Street food has never been hotter in the United States. From taco trucks to food carts, from ethnic heritage festivals to competitive cook-offs, all summer long regional specialties are served at parks and fairgrounds by the people who made them.
The popularity of these fests speaks to a yearning for authenticity in a nation where chain restaurants are ubiquitous.
Locally, the season kicks off with a celebration of Norwegian heritage, Syttende Mai, in Stoughton, where you can check out Norwegian meatballs, lefse, sandbakkels, herring and more. The season closes with fests dedicated to two important Wisconsin fruit crops - apples and cranberries. In between you can indulge in everything from cream puffs to paczki; throw in a beer tent and you're all set.
We recommend confirming event details before making any long drives.
May 14-16, Stoughton.
The 17th of May is Norwegian Constitution Day, but you don't need a Norwegian constitution to enjoy traditional Norwegian food. Look for lefse wraps, burgers, brats, Norwegian cookies, fresh cream puffs, strawberry shortcake, Norwegian meatballs, sandbakkels and herring. 608-873-7912.
May 15-16, Muscoda.
Some people have a talent for finding morels, but the rest of us might be better served by heading to this annual fest. You can get them fried or buy a bunch to cook at home. There's also a steak feed May 15 at 5 pm at the Fire Station. 608-739-3182.
May 28-31, Festival Grounds, Burlington.
Highlights include wine and chocolate pairings, chocolate chip tastings, cooking demonstrations and a candy-bar-eating contest. 262-763-3300.
May 28-31, Willow Island, Alliant Energy Center, Madison.
As of 2009, there was a new brat-eating record of 208,752. Surely you can do your part. Choose from Wisconsin-made Johnsonville brats, Oscar Mayer hot dogs and veggie Boca brats, or really help beat the record with the Double Johnny - two brats in one bun.
June 4-6, Doyle Park, Little Chute.
Fri. 5 pm-midnight, Sat. 10 am-midnight, Sun. 11 am-5 pm. Dive into the cheese breakfast, cheese-curd-eating competition or the sweet cheesecake contest. 920-788-7390.
June 4-6, McKee Farms Park, 2900 Chapel Valley Rd., Fitchburg.br>The Italian Workmen's Club of Madison hosts a celebration of Italian food and culture that's more than just an average spaghetti-and-meatball dinner. 608-258-1880.
June 5, Madison.
Cows will graze on the Capitol lawn 8 am-1 pm. Samples of milk, cheese and ice cream. 608-575-5388.
June 5, 11 am-7 pm, Pierce Park, Appleton.
Greek and Serbian food includes gyros, souvlaki, chevapi (sausage), gibanjica (phyllo pastry), tiropita (phyllo and feta), baklava and other pastries. 920-730-8119.
June 5, 9 am-10 pm, Hart Park, Wauwatosa.
Fish and chips, meat pies, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs and shortbread. 414-422-9235.
June 12-13, Fireman's Park, Hwy. 33, Hillsboro.
The Czech dinner (roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut) starts Sat. at 11 am and goes until the food's gone; take home some Czech bakery goods, like kolaches (fruit-filled pastries) and rohlicky. 608-489-2521.
June 18-20, Fri. & Sat. noon-midnight, Sun. noon-10 pm, Henry W. Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee.
First off, head for the pierogies. But also try placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes), czarnina (duck blood soup) and paczki (raspberry and prune pastries). Cooking demos in the Taste of Polonia tent on pierogi making, nalesniki, bigos and other traditional dishes at 1 pm each day. 414-529-2140.
June 19, 9 am-6 pm, 3030 Martin Luther King Dr., Milwaukee.
Eat traditional soul food - fried chicken, sweet potato pie, and more - to celebrate the end of slavery. 414-372-3770.
June 26-27, Sat. 10 am-6 pm, Sun. 10 am-5 pm, Cedarburg.
You've probably had strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, strawberry slushies, and even chocolate-covered strawberries. But strawberry brats? 888-894-4001.
July 8-11, Thurs.-Sun. 11 am-midnight, Sun. 11 am-9 pm, East Town / Cathedral Square Park, Milwaukee.
Festival-goers can sample Cajun, Creole, Canadian and French cuisine at sidewalk cafes while enjoying live music and street performers. Chef, wine and cheese demos. 414-271-1416.
July 17, Port Washington.
Billed as the "World's largest outdoor one-day fish fry," Fish Day features deep-fried fish and chips, plus ice-cream-eating and smoked-fish-eating contests. 800-719-4881.
July 17, North Grove Street, Mount Horeb.
Lefse, rommegrot, sand-bakkle, smorbrod, sotsuppe and more.
July 22-25, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee.
This is one of the biggies, with brats, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, pastries, tortes and strudels. Not just any sauerkraut, either: German Fest sauerkraut comes from a secret recipe (though high-level sources say that apple-wood bacon, apples, brown sugar, onions and caraway seeds are a part of it). 414-464-9444.
July 24-25, Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Seventh Street & East Washington Avenue, Madison.
One of Madison's favorite street fests. Traditional Greek-style roast lamb and chicken dinners, spanakopita, gyros sandwiches, Greek salads, honey puffs, baklava and Greek pastries. 608-244-1001.
August 1, 11 am-7 pm, Festival Park, Racine.
Traditional Armenian cuisine; lavash and matnakash. 262-639-6076.
August 5-7, Kiwanis Park, Sheboygan.
Everything is brat. These folks stop just short of bratwurst custard. Look for brat tacos, brat pizzas, brat gyros and more. 920-803-8980.
August 6-8, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee.
Baba ghanoush, hummus, falafel, shish kebab, desserts and Arabic tea. 414-727-5517.
August 7, Hwy. 57, Jacksonport.
Cherry bakery with cherry kolaches, cherry pie and ice cream, funnel cakes, cherry jam, cherry pie filling and more. 920-823-2316.
August 19-22, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee.
Last year's menu included Irish sausage, Irish egg rolls, "bridies," meat pie, corned beef, fish and chips, Irish soda bread, scones, Irish stew, baked potatoes, shepherd's pie, potato pancakes and more. 414-476-3378.
August 19-22, Angell Park (Hwy. 19 and N), Sun Prairie.
Baskets of hot corn on the cob. Pull down the hot husk and cover the corn in butter and salt, then dig in. Corn served Sat. and Sun. noon-7 pm only. 608-837-4547.
September 4-5, Sat. 2-9 pm, Sun. 11 am-7 pm, Capitol Square, Madison.
Sample food from over 60 area restaurants. 608-276-9797.
September 10-12, Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee.
Native American offerings include Indian tacos, buffalo, venison and turkey. 414-604-1000.
September 11, 10 am, Chandler Park, Pardeeville.
Free all-you-can-eat watermelon, plus watermelon carving, speed-eating and seed-spitting contests. What a country!
September 11, Deacon Mills Park, Green Lake.
Chefs from around the Midwest come to compete for the title of "creator of the best chili in Wisconsin," plus other entertainment. Cooking starts at 11 am; judging at 3 pm with sampling afterwards. 800-253-7354.
September 25, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Madison.
A celebration of eating sustainably and healthfully. Chefs will present food demos; don't miss keynote speaker Ann Cooper, the "Renegade Lunch Lady." 608-310-7836.
September 24-26, Mineral Point.
Friday night is pub night at Pendarvis.
September 24-26, Warrens.
Behold the humble cranberry elevated to something more than just sauce that retains the shape of its can: cranberry cream puffs, pancakes with cranberry syrup and more, plus spaghetti (Fri.) and steak (Sat.) dinners. 608-378-4200.
September 25-26, Gays Mills.
Celebrate the apple with plenty of fresh apples, pie and a pancake breakfast. The many orchards surrounding the town are worth the visit. 608-735-4341.
- Compiled by Linda Falkenstein, Megan Larson & Bob Koch