First Tacolandia festival to feature vendors from 30 Valley taquerias

Willie's Taco Joint will be one of 30 vendors at Saturday's Tacolandia festival. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Taco lovers rejoice — for $25, attendees at the first-ever Tacolandia festival at Margaret T. Hance Park can enjoy four hours of unlimited taco samples on Saturday.

The outdoor taco sampling event hosted by the Phoenix New Times is expected to draw 1,500 people and become an annual event. It will feature vendors from 30 Valley area taquerias and Mexican restaurants from 1-5 p.m.

Phoenix New Times Marketing Manager Rachel Hill said ticket prices will rise on the day of the event and that a sellout is likely. The event, which will be 21+, will also have cash bars and live entertainment.

Tacolandia originally started four years ago in Los Angeles, hosted by New Times Media’s LA Weekly. Hill said the event gained popularity in L.A. because the ticket fee covers unlimited samples, unlike other festivals which typically charge per sample.

Familiar favorites expected to be at the event include Queso Good Quesadilla Truck, Paz Cantina, Macayo’s Mexican Table, and Tacos Chiwas.

Also set to sample at Tacolandia are Barrio Café, Barrio Café Gran Reserva, and Barrio Urbano, the restaurants of seasoned chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, member of the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame since 2004.

They will also have the chance to try new items and new names.

Derek Baker, bar manager at Willie’s Taco Joint, said they will serve the Green Butcher, a green chile beef taco, to the public for the first time.

“We’re giving it a test drive,” said Derek Baker. “It’s not even on the menu yet.”

Baker said Willie’s Taco Joint had a soft opening about five weeks ago. The festival comes just days before the official grand opening, which will be on February 3 at Jefferson and Third streets.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Baker said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Hill said Phoenix’s proximity to Mexico and depth of Mexican cultural influence make it an ideal place to start an annual taco festival, especially considering its success in L.A. In its first year, the L.A. Weekly taco festival had an attendance of about 1,500. This year, L.A.’s tickets sold out at 8,000.

Hill said she hopes to see the same growth in Phoenix, and expects its popularity will “just keep doubling.”

International Truck of Tacos, grand champion of last year’s Arizona Taco Festival, will showcase its Korean Kick taco, made with Korean beef short rib.

Eric Baker, part of the International Truck of Tacos team, said their truck came into the taco truck scene about six months ago. He said taco festivals are especially valuable for taco truckers to gain publicity.

“We’re still building our business, our rapport,” Eric Baker said.

Tickets can be purchased at the Tacolandia site here.

Contact the reporter at Nicole.Neri@asu.edu.