Now in its fourth year, the annual Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge has become a Queen City tradition with its $2, made-just-for-the-occasion tacos available at more than 40 downtown Manchester eateries.
Hippo publisher Jody Reese expects about 15,000 “taco tourists” to participate this year, based on past attendance. These “taco tourists” come from all over — the seacoast, Boston, even Burlington, Vt., Reese said.
“It’s a unique food festival,” he said. “The idea was to have people hop from place to place and really enjoy the diversity that downtown Manchester and the millyard has to offer.”
The taco festivities are on Thursday, May 1, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Reese said there are two strategies to getting the most out of the tour. If your goal is to eat as many tacos as possible, he recommends starting in the millyard with restaurants like Fratello’s, Cotton, 900 Degrees, World Sports Grille, Milly’s Tavern and the Pavilion Restaurant at the Hilton Garden Inn. After that, he said, visit the most southern locations on Elm Street and work your way in.
“People tend to start on Lowell Street,” Reese said, noting that those locations get the busiest the quickest.
But if your goal is to eat a particular taco (perhaps the Indian-style chicken, grilled and julienned with cilantro sauces with lettuce and cucumbers, at Chateau, or the cigarette cookie shell with chocolate hazelnut cake soaked in Kahlua with orange mascarpone cream over at Finesse Pastries), Reese said go to those locations first in case they run out.
Reese said the longest wait time for a taco can be up to 20 minutes in a busy location, but the tacos are worth the wait. Many are made to order, he said, and there’s a trade-off for speedy lines. Most restaurants use a soft tortilla shell, and often the taco tastes better when a server takes the time to warm the tortilla.
“I really like getting to try all the different iterations,” Reese said. “That’s the kind of stuff I like to see is the guys who go outside the box. The chefs really get into it.”
The Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge isn’t just an opportunity to pig out ahead of Cinco de Mayo — it’s also a chance for restaurants to win $1,000 for a charity of their choice.
The Hanover Street Chophouse is participating for the first time this year, and owner Steven Clutter hopes to win the prize money for the Our Promise to Nicholas Foundation, a local charity that promotes awareness of Batten Disease.
Clutter said in an email that the Chophouse wanted to participate this year after seeing the Taco Challenge’s popularity in previous years.
“It gives us the opportunity to do something different that we don’t normally do,” Clutter said.
The Hanover Street Chophouse will be serving the “el chopo taco,” a soft corn tortilla filled with spicy dry-rubbed USDA sirloin with tomatillo-serrano chile salsa topped with queso fresco.
The Currier Museum of Art is also getting in on the taco action this year. The museum’s Winter Garden Cafe chef, Joseph Sylvester, will be preparing a pulled pork taco with chipotle honey, queso fresco and an Asian pear slaw. The Taco Challenge happens to fall on the same evening as Currier After Hours, a special evening with entertainment that occurs on the first Thursday of each month. The Currier will be competing to win $1,000 for its charity, Vietnam Veterans of America.
Restaurants will compete for two titles: the Judges’ Choice (voted on by three Hippo staff foodies) and People’s Choice awards. Last year, El Rincon won the People’s Choice award, while the Gyro Spot took the prize for Judges’ Choice.
People’s Choice voting will be a little different this year. Instead of texting favorite tacos, participants can vote for their favorite taco on a smartphone by selecting their favorites from a drop-down menu on the Hippo de Mayo website (hippodemayo.com).
As seen in the April 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.