The first Taco Wars game comes to Santa Monica on Saturday and will feature some of the best taco chefs from the southwestern United States all the way to Mexico.
The whole idea of Taco Wars is to find the best taqueros around and put them all together in one space for an epic showdown. The annual event will rotate taco styles with carnitas taking center stage this weekend.
He is a winner who takes all the competition and the last taqueros steadfast can win the prestigious Golden Piggy Trophy.
Six contenders have been confirmed so far including Los Gabrieles, Carnitas Almomo, Carnitas El Rey, Carnitas El Artista, Carnitas Don Claudio and Carnitas Los Banchos.
Taqueros will be judged by a star-studded panel that takes street food seriously including authors, chefs, and food experts.
Taco Wars was put together by Jorge Reynaga aka “Mexi-papa” and Jeffery Merrihue. Merrihue was a marketing and sales executive for 35 years for companies like Kellogg’s and Nabisco. He currently owns and operates Heroic Italian in the city.
“The nice thing about this festival is that all the companies that are going to be there are little Mexican families,” Merihue said. “And all the additional vendors that are going to be there selling Mexican drinks and T-shirts and everything else, they are all small Mexican families. This is not a joint venture at all, it really helps the Mexican community.”
Reynaga has a large presence on social media and has worked in the food industry for the past 20 years. He worked as a food photographer, which pushed him towards creating content on the internet. Four years ago, Rinaga noticed a lack of excitement and exposure to Mexican street food, so he decided to jump in to be more creative and interactive by showcasing the food, giving interviews, and posting on his social media pages, mexi_papa_adventures.
The two men met years ago at a taco booth and have been taco partners in crime ever since.
“The first time we spoke, we were there for a few hours,” Rinaga said. “From there it was like you know, we had the same passion for food. It was game over. We go everywhere together.”
Organizers discussed holding Taco Wars at Long Beach or Whitter, but Santa Monica worked with them to make Taco Wars a reality.
“I think Santa Monica needs more things like that,” Merihue said. “I didn’t do engineering here because I was kind of skeptical,” he said.
Rather than dissent, he said he found a welcoming environment. Merio and Renaga credited Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of downtown Santa Monica, and City Council member Phil Brock for allowing the event to take place in the city.
“We are always pleased to be able to assist a local business owner, and pave the way for a fun and unique experience in downtown Santa Monica,” Rawson said. “Highlighting Latin American cuisine is also a great way to provide our residents and visitors with a way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.”
Outside of competition, Taco Wars will feature other food stalls and trucks featuring other types of tacos, hot dogs, micheladas, churros, Mexican candy, T-shirts, hats, and all kinds of music and dance well thrown in.
It takes place at 1301 4th street from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and tickets are available on Mexipapa.net for $25 each. Each taco costs $2.50 when you’re at the event.
“Downtown Santa Monica is going to smell like carnitas on October 9,” Renaga said.