Where else on Earth can you find thousands of people consuming tens of thousands of jazzed-up tacos than at the Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge?
The third annual event will take place Thursday, May 2, from 5 to 9 p.m. throughout downtown Manchester. Organized by the Hippo, the Cinco de Mayo celebration will include more than 35 restaurants offering tacos for $2 each.
Tacos will be all over the flavor map, from tandoori chicken to sriracha lime beef.
“It’s a soft flour taco with spicy sriracha lime and ground beef,” said Firefly American Bistro and Bar event coordinator Rachael Jones. “If you’ve never had sriracha before, it’s a fantastic Vietnamese chili sauce. It’s hot but has great flavor and balance.”
First-time taco tour participant The Gyro Spot will offer the Opa Taco, which is pork marinated in traditional Greek spices, topped with tomatoes, red onions, parsley and french fries and drizzled with tzatziki and their secret “G Sauce.”
“Basically what we did was take our traditional pork gyro and give it a Mexican twist,” said Gyro Spot co-owner Alex Lambroulis. “We want people to experience what a traditional gyro in Greece would be like, except on a soft taco instead of pita bread. It will have traditional Mediterranean and Greek flavors like garlic and yogurt.”
Other tacos on the tour include Rouge Grill’s calamari taco, The Farm Bar and Grille’s pulled pork taco, Fratello’s chicken caprese taco, Doogie’s Bar and Grill’s sloppy beef taco and the Chateau Restaurant’s tandoori chicken taco.
The Wild Rover Pub will honor its Irish theme with a corned beef taco and is also offering a combo of a taco and coconut margarita shot for $5.
“Last year was a huge success,” Wild Rover manager Kristine Rioux said. “People had a lot of fun and we had a line from the back of the restaurant where the kitchen is all the way through the dining room, out onto the patio and down the street to the corner of Lowell Street for about an hour and a half to two hours. You can’t beat two-dollar tacos and the array of styles and varieties everyone comes up with.”
On the sweet side, Baked will offer a cake taco, Ben & Jerry’s will have the “Mexicone Dream” (a waffle cone transformed into a taco shell, filled with Americone Dream ice cream and topped with caramel and waffle cone chips) and Lala’s Hungarian Restaurant will feature the Transylvanian dessert taco.
Finesse Pastries will be featuring a twist on the dessert taco with a thin cookie crust, orange mascarpone filling and hazelnut milk chocolate.
“This is our first time and we’re all very excited,” said Finesse pastry chef Chelsey Erickson. “Last year, we were doing construction on the building and I poked my head out and saw people everywhere. We asked someone on the street and they said it was a huge deal and everyone does it, so we knew once we were open we wanted to be a part of it.”
Hippo publisher Jody Reese hopes everyone will come out and be a “taco tourist” by sampling some of the tacos and enjoying a night out in downtown Manchester.
“Our goal for this is to create a fun, family-friendly activity downtown that is easy to do. This really fits the bill,” Reese said. “Manchester is a great food city, and this is a way for a lot of chefs downtown to show off what they can do and have a lot of fun with it.”
Last year’s event drew an estimated 10,000 people, and approximately 40,000 tacos were eaten. Reese said he expects 12,000 to 15,000 taco tourists this year. The event is billed as the “world’s largest taco tour.”
Reese said the Hippo de Mayo is great for community development but also good for downtown restaurants. He said having restaurants put their own spin on tacos, from alternate meats and toppings to dessert-style tacos, is one of the best aspects of the event.
“The taco, to me, is the perfect food for this. Every culture has a taco,” Reese said. “It’s incredibly easy to make, and it’s very versatile. It’s like a blank canvas — you can do anything you want to it.”
Tour participants will be able to vote for their favorite taco via cell phone, with the winning restaurant receiving $1,000 for its charity of choice. Judges from the Hippo will also be voting for their favorite taco and awarding another $1,000 donation for the winning restaurant. Voters are eligible to cast up to 10 votes.
Many of the restaurants will also have special Cinco de Mayo menus that night. Maps will be available in the Hippo, online at hippodemayo.com, in participating restaurants and on Facebook.
There are no tickets needed for the taco tour — just head downtown with some money and an appetite. Since the event draws so many people and the tacos are made to order, expect to wait in line at some locations.
But that’s just another way to meet people and add to the experience, Reese said.
“It’s a festive atmosphere because it’s a nice day in May and you get to line up and hang out with people from Manchester,” Reese said. “It’s a great scene.”