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Taco Festival promises 'tacotopia' of fun

Competitors will face off for $5,000 cash pool

Calling all taco connoisseurs, margarita lovers and Lucha Libre enthusiasts: The Tucson Taco Festival is coming  Saturday, April 28.

More than 20 competitors will sling their best beef, chicken, pork and fish creations in hopes of impressing the judges and taking home the festival's $1,200 grand prize.

For a $10 admission fee, anyone can come enjoy sunshine, live music, Lucha Libre and a leisurely afternoon at Rillito Downs. Children younger than 12 are free.

Competition tacos will sell for $2 each and Sir Veza’s Taco Garage will staff a full bar. The festival partially benefits the Anne Rita Monahan Foundation, an organization that seeks to “ARM” women against ovarian cancer.

The event's lineup includes Lucha Libre wrestling, a tequila expo, a chili-pepper eating contest and a margarita competition. There will be live music from El Camino Royales and Shrimp Chaperone. The two local bands bring the salty sound of American surf rock to the stage.

“I can’t think of anything more fun than a cold Mexican beer, eating a taco in the sunshine and listening to a live band,” said Affordable Food Festivals co-founder David Tyda.

If tacos aren’t enough to tempt families, there also will be a kid’s zone with face painting and the ever-popular bouncy castle.

Parents looking to have an offspring-free weekend can indulge in a VIP entrance. The golden ticket will buy a private entrance free of lines and access to a private open bar. While relaxing in the shade they can enjoy a buffet and three tickets to sample competition tacos. The $100 VIP ticket also buys 10 samples to a tasting of more than 100 tequilas, which is otherwise $10.

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“It’s mainly about the shade, the convenience and the open bar,” said David Tyda, Affordable Food Festivals co-founder. To ensure the convenience promised, they won’t sell more than 300 VIP tickets.

This will be the first Taco extravaganza held in Tucson by Affordable Food Festivals. They have hosted previous foodie fests in Phoenix and Scottsdale since opening three years ago.

The last Taco Festival in Scottsdale drew about 15,000 people. The transition to Tucson was an easy decision, said David Tyda an Affordable Food Festivals co-founder.

“The Mexican food is so different,” Tyda said. “You definitely have more homegrown.”

Seis Curbside Kitchen has been planning their taco-centered menu for the competition. Owner, Jack Munoz, ran Macayo’s restaurants in Tucson and Casa Grande before opening Seis in December 2011.

The mobile eatery specializes in regional Mexican food from the Yucatan to central Mexico, said Munoz. Their pork entry, the El Pastor taco represents a style of cooking popular in Mexico City.

The pork is saturated in a chili marinade and grilled. Meanwhile, the chili marinade is rendered down and added back with fresh grilled pineapple.

“That sweetness just cuts through the chili and it’s just an awesome taco,” Munoz said.

The taco judging will be officiated by the National Taco Association, an organization created  before the first Taco Festival in Scottsdale. Awards also will be given for best salsa, guacamole, booth and an “anything goes” taco.

The judging is anonymous and the judges are sequestered to maintain the integrity of the competition. Judges come from both Phoenix and Tucson and had to attend a class to become certified for the competition, Tyda said.

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There was no shortage of taco-obsessed individuals willing to volunteer for the job.

“There’s some foodies. It’s all walks of life,” Tyda said, “It’s literally like a lawyer, a financial planner, a fireman, a security guy, a couple chefs.”

The champions of the taco throw down will be announced at 6 p.m. and the festival will wrap up at 7 p.m. The total cash pool amounts to more than $5,000.

Munoz hopes to be taking home high honors, but is most excited to feed the masses and spread the word about Seis.

Though Munoz was hesitant the share his salsa’s secret recipe, he would give one insight to his game day strategy: “If you use fresh ingredients it all comes together,” Munoz said.

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Admission to the Tucson Taco Festival is $10 and free for kids under 12.

If you go

  • What: Tucson Taco Festival
  • When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Where: Rillito Downs, 4502 N. First Ave.
  • Admission: $10, free for children younger than 12. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $100. 

Activities lineup

  • 11 a.m.-5 p.m., tequila expo
  • 11:15 a.m. - 2 p.m., live music by the El Camino Royales
  • Noon.-5 p.m., Lucha Libre wrestling
  • 1 p.m., margarita competition in the tequila tent
  • 3-6 p.m, live music by Shrimp Chaperone
  • Time TBD, hot chile pepper-eating contest, taco-eating challenge