If you like tasty cheap food and hunting for great bargains, then Maxwell Street Market is for you! A Chicago tradition steeped in history, this flea market offers a random selection of merchandise, some of which look old and used, but if you dig carefully, hidden gems can definitely be found at a fraction of its original retail price. This Sunday open-air street market also includes tons of food vendors, selling delicious Mexican and Latin street food that are bound to leave you wanting for more. Read on for a tour of the colorful Maxwell Street Market!
A lively bazaar with a long history
Maxwell Street Market’s history could be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when it was first founded by immigrant Eastern European Jews who sold fresh produce on Maxwell Street. It slowly grew into a huge Sunday flea market where anything and everything could be sold, ranging from shoestrings to car parts, with hawkers touting their business loudly and customers haggling for prices in different languages.
Today, Maxwell Street Market had relocated to South Desplaines, its second relocation since its original location on Maxwell Street. The location might be different, but awesome bargains can definitely still be found in this street market!
Once you reach Maxwell Street Market, you will be greeted with a really lively scene of many stalls each selling something totally different from one another. There are stalls selling fresh produce, brand new household items, brand new cosmetics, second-hand bags and shoes, and even military gear!
Random selection of merchandise
Part of the appeal in visiting Maxwell Street Market is the randomness of the merchandise being sold; you never know what you are going to see or get. You can buy a second-hand book just beside a stall that sells vegetables and a fake Chinese terra cotta souvenirs beside a stall that sells bags.
To someone like me who moved to Chicago, checking out all the different stalls and seeing how the vendors hawk their products and go about doing their small business is an eye-opening experience as it is very different from the usual fairs and street markets I otherwise see in Chicago.
Cheap, Cheap, Cheap!
If you are not comfortable with buying used products, there are still many stalls that sell brand-new products, even if some of the packaging look quite old. I’ve seen Maybelline foundations sold at 1 USD, travel size Pantene shampoo for 4 for 1 USD, High Sierra bags for 15 USD, all of which are brand new and at a fraction of its original retail price!
This is a place that is suitable for a bargain-hunter who does not mind getting products in less than pristine conditions. For me, who delights in getting good deals, I had a good time stocking up on snacks like chocolates and potato chips, which are sold at half of the retail price.
Try out Rubi's for yummy tacos
Every now and then, the aroma of the tacos and quesadillas will waft into your nostrils, distracting you so much from your bargain hunting that you just have to go and queue up to grab some food.
When in doubt as to what to eat, just follow the crowd and join in the longest queue, which usually belong to Rubi’s. Apparently, Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel also stopped by Rubi’s to buy tacos a few years ago, but because there were so many customers in Rubi’s stand, there were no seats available and he had to leave and eat on the street. That is Rubi’s appeal for you!
They also pound and make their own tortillas there, and watching them make it is quite a sight. Meanwhile it is common to see Rubi’s owner, Ramirez, decked in his signature hat and wielding his knife at the charcoal roasting spit while shouting, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” to tout his yummy offerings.
Servings are large and affordable, priced at between 3 USD to 4 USD, definitely a great deal for a delicious bite.
Other than Rubi’s, there are still many stands selling Mexican food and drinks. Fret not if you are lazy to queue for Rubi’s, because food from the other stands all tasted pretty good as well!
A great way to spend a Sunday morning
Maxwell Street Market is only open on Sundays from 7 am to 3 pm. With tasty cheap food and possible bargains, it is a great way to spend a Sunday morning sampling different food and trawling for good buys. In fact, Maxwell Street Market reminds me a bit of street markets in Thailand where everything and anything could be found at affordable prices.
If you don’t want to queue for food and prefer more space to walk around in the market, I suggest you go earlier in the morning. However if you are in it for the lively atmosphere, feel free to check it out when it is closer to noon time, sometimes there are even free performances to watch!
Maxwell Street Market is located at 800 S. Desplaines St.
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