By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Mexican food, margaritas and lucha libra wrestling fill Salt River Fields
David Tyda doesn’t mind working at his Phoenix Pizza Festival or the upcoming inaugural Donut Festival.
But he wishes he could take a step back at the Arizona Taco Festival on Saturday, October 13, and Sunday, October 14, at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.
“Of all the events I produce, that is the one I would most likely go to,” he says. “I don’t want to work that day. I want to kick back, relax and have a margarita.”
The Arizona Taco Festival was founded by Tyda and Rick Phillips of Affordable Food Festivals and The Taco Group. In reaction to high-priced, exclusionary culinary events, the duo formed a company that orchestrates festivals with three components: a culinary competition, low price of entry and original entertainment programming.
Sixty restaurants will take over 10 acres of grass, with attractions like live bands, lucha libre wrestling (under a tent this year), eating contests and the Chihuahua dog beauty pageant.
The Saturday Tequila Expo will feature samples of 100-plus premium varieties, and the Sunday Margarita Expo, where more than a dozen of the Valley’s top mixologists shake up gourmet cocktails, will also highlight the spirit. Salsa, guacamole and other Mexican-inspired fare round out the weekend.
The 2018 Arizona Taco Festival will operate on a token system (aka taco bitcoin), where guests will trade their purchased tokens for tacos and margaritas.
“We’re going back to tokens,” Tyda says. “We’re all about doing the things that work, making sure there are no lines to get in and enough taco vendors.
“A lot of people, still to this day, say there are so many lines at the Arizona Taco Festival. I look around and all the popular booths are going to have lines. That’s the nature of a festival. There are great taco booths that don’t have lines. Go check them out. There could be a great chef. They just may not have decorated the booth as great.”
This year, he recommends patrons try the Taste of Korea’s tacos.
“I always get excited when somebody who doesn’t traditionally make tacos decides to partake,” he says. “It proves my theory that tacos are the most adapted and adaptable cuisine. Every ethnicity can create their version of the taco. For someone who typically cooks Korean food to try the taco festival, that’s exciting.”
Ajo Al’s Mexican Café was Arizona Taco Festival’s grand champion last year. On top of it, owner Daniel Dains figures he served well over 4,500 tacos last year.
“With the exception of the week before Christmas, that’s the most hours we work during the year,” Dains says. “To get it all prepped, we’ll start on Tuesday or Wednesday. We do the event on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday we put the restaurant back together. It’s basically a straight week of nonsense.”
Ajo Al’s, which Dains says was Sen. John McCain’s favorite restaurant, is known for its pollo con queso, shredded beef taco and shrimp and smoked pork belly tacos.
While guests chow on tacos, they can enjoy surf punk, southern California reggae, mariachi and Latin cumbia music.
“Our mantra this year is all about consistency and simply making sure it’s a good guest experience,” Tyda says.
Arizona Taco Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, October 13, and Sunday, October 14 at Salt River Fields, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. Tickets cost $12 online, $15 at the gate; kids 12 and younger are free. VIP tickets are $100 and include five drinks from the VIP bar, 10 tacos, shaded VIP-area seating, exclusive tent with DJ and restrooms. For more information, call 480-270-5000 or visit aztacofestival.com.