I tend to treat tacos as only a means of transportation for getting salsa into my mouth. However, the Arizona Taco Festival this weekend taught me that salsa can’t always be the star of the show. When it comes to tacos, salsa is to act in a supporting role to whichever meat or seafood the chefs have chosen as their superstar.
I attended the festival with an open heart, an open mind, and an empty stomach. After my friend and I spent a solid 25 minutes observing the overwhelming options of taco stands, avoiding the “see-and-be-seen” tequila bars, and giggling at the sombrero-adorned drunks, we made our first taco stop.
Chelsea’s Kitchen had their mouthwatering carnitas tacos out on display. I’ve been to Chelsea’s Kitchen before, and I can honestly say it makes my Top 5 list of best restaurants. EVER.
Before I indulged, Executive Chef Jorge Gomez was kind enough to step away from his pop-up kitchen to teach me about his tacos and salsas.
Gomez had his green tomatillo and red charred salsas at the festival, and he poured me little shots of each one to taste. The tomatillo had that tangy, acidic taste that I love, and the red charred one was smoky and slightly sweet. Gomez said that the charred salsa is served with every taco on the Chelsea’s Kitchen menu, and he said the restaurant goes through about 10 gallons of the red and 5 gallons of the green each day.
Shots of salsa > Shots of tequila
As for the actual taco that he was serving, Gomez walked me through the line up of rotisserie-cooked and sliced pork that is simmered in ranchero sauce for four hours, and served on a corn tortilla with pico de gallo and guacamole. Hi, get in my belly.
SOL Cocina also put their best pork foot forward at the Taco Festival. They were serving up carnitas street tacos with slow-roasted and shredded pork, chicharron (fried pork skins), onions, avocado, and a tomatillo salsa on a gluten-free tortilla. SO TRENDY!
General Manager, Jessica Kortas, said that SOL Cocina has 17 different salsas that they make from scratch, and each salsa is specifically made and served to compliment a taco. After a bit of wavering, Kortas said that her favorite taco on the menu is the Grilled Fish Zarandeado that has a pineapple-cucumber salsa, because she said the fish and pineapple perfectly compliment one another.
I had a total of 5 tacos over the course of the evening. No shame.
The next three that I tried were inferior to the first two, but delicious nonetheless.
I tried a “Puerto Nuevo” shrimp taco from Tonto Bar & Grill , which is a unique Native Arizona inspired eatery. Their taco had shrimp, peppers and onions, an avocado crema sauce, and a delicious slaw with carrots that they call “Escabèche Slaw.” I am a fan of any avocado-cream-ish-sauce, so I really enjoyed this one.
I tried my best to avoid the chain restaurants, but…
Macayo’s was serving the most non-photogenic cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) taco in existence. I could tell the Macayo’s tent crew was tired of serving tacos all day.
I ended my rounds with a fresh mahi-mahi taco with a mango habanero salsa from Rubio’s, and I walked out of the festival gates while simultaneously eating this taco.