With the exception of the Russian Mafia, Israel is rarely considered second to Chicago. Nonetheless, the upcoming Ta'am Ha' ir food festival, organized by the Ha'ir chain of local newspapers, puts Israel exactly there. Let it be known - we are number two. The first two Ta'am Ha'ir festivals were held in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque plaza. However, with a growing list of participating restaurants and more and more people attending, the festival has quickly become the biggest in Israel, outgrowing its original location in favor of its current one, the Yarkon Park. Due to its ever-expanding size, the festival has received much criticism regarding a loss of intimacy, as well as the distancing of chef restaurants from the event. However, Ofra Ganor, owner of the participating and spectacular restaurant Manta Ray and organizer from the festival's start, couldn't be happier with the growth. "I think that Ta'am Ha'ir is one of the greatest festivals in Israel. I love the idea that people from all over the country come here to taste different foods from different places, drink different kinds of beer and other beverages and enjoy the music, all in one place," she says. This is the festival's 13th incarnation, so it's being billed as its bar-mitzva year and has a long and somewhat impressive list of participating restaurants, including Odeon, The Brewhouse, The Brasserie, Mifgash Ha'steak and Indira, to name just a few. Each will give a taste of their exquisite and/or non-exquisite dishes for NIS 20 to NIS 25 per dish. Though the dishes are not created especially for Ta'am Ha'ir, each restaurant tries to convey its spirit through the different choices of its regular dishes that it presents. "The first criterion is that the health department confirms that the foods may be served in such a setting. The second is in trying to give a taste of the restaurant," says Ganor, adding that "Manta ray, for example, will sell shrimps, calamari and Moser kebab, all of which are also served in the restaurant." As for vegetarian festival goers, most restaurants serve at least one suitable dish. The Brewhouse, for example will offer a mushroom dish that it brings each year due to high demand. In addition to the restaurants there are almost 100 organic foods stands, artisan bread stands, spice shops, boutique cheeses, chocolates, marmalades and jams where one can purchase wares for currency. Other displays will include specialty paraphernalia for cooking, baking and serving and professional literature on cooking, including cookbooks and wine and food magazines. This year, special attention is being given to children. Costumed mascots will greet festival comers, hand out surprises and scare the timid. Also, the festival will participate in the wave of nostalgia currently sweeping the nation surrounding the country's 60th birthday. Therefore, every night the festival will put on a grand parade of 250 dancers, puppets, bands and street performers in a salute to the Israeli food industry, according to parade organizer and Ha'ir vice-CEO Liat Shemer. "We took a survey on which foods Israelis consider representative of the country and will present the chosen foods in the parade," Shemer says. The list of foods to be represented includes Hashachar chocolate spread, Nesher beer, the classic Israeli hot dog, Ms. Lucy, Manamim wafers, watermelon, Krembo and more. "We expected people to suggest more gourmet foods, but the traditional foods won out. I think that is the beauty of the festival, it has traditional, home-cooked food, alongside more elaborate, gourmet courses," Shemer explains. As for the criticism the festival gets, Shemer disagrees. "Israel is a country with many difficulties - terror, economy, and this festival is the only festival to last for so many years. I believe that all in all, the love for food is the greatest love people have. This festival is for the public, and if a lot of people want to come, then the more the merrier. Besides, many great restaurants are a part of the festival, and despite the fact that the dining culture has evolved through the years, many people still appreciate eating a dish from an exquisite restaurant for a small price." So, even if you're a fan of intimacy, Ta'am Ha'ir is worth checking out. And, between this year's parade, combined with myriad beer and food options, there is sure to be one heck of a festive atmosphere. Ta'am Ha'ir runs from May 26 to 29, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Located at the Ganei Yehoshua section in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, entrance is free. Galgalatz will broadcast all the meshugas live, every night starting at 6 p.m.