The Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge will give Queen City chefs a chance to “put their restaurant personality up in taco lights,” said Hippo publisher Jody Reese.
(And, yes, full disclosure, this is a story about a Hippo-run event. But the taco tour is open to all — no tickets required.)
More than 30 restaurants in downtown Manchester have signed on to throw their sombreros into the ring and put their best taco forward on Thursday, May 5, from 5 to 9 p.m. Each spot will sell its own version of the taco for $2 per taco.
“Manchester isn’t known as a Cinco de Mayo town,” Reese said. “I hope we can start a tradition so that Cinco de Mayo in Manchester becomes as large as St. Patrick’s Day.”
The winner of the taco challenge will receive $3,000 (donated by sponsors of the event), with $2,000 of the prize money going toward the restaurant’s chosen charity.
“Tacos are really wonderful — they are a blank canvas,” Reese said. “The definition is, basically, stuff inside a piece of bread.”
As many downtown eateries do not even have tacos on their menus, Reese said he is glad to see restaurants putting together exciting and fun tacos for the event: “These are really creative people that want to take on the taco and make it their own,” Reese said. A few restaurants have even opted to create a dessert taco for the event, such as the Applelaco taco at Jillian’s (50 Philippe Cote St., Manchester), which has selected The Liberty House as its charity. “We love a good creative challenge,” said Wendy Colby Fisher, Jillian’s event sales manager. “We want to win and we want to win for The Liberty House.”
Some restaurants are so excited about the taco tour, which Reese said may be the first of its kind, that they are adding special dishes to their menus for the evening.
In addition to his competition taco, Jeff Paige, owner of Cotton (75 Arms. St., Manchester), plans to offer a special menu featuring Tortilla Soup, Chicken Avocado Tostada (crispy tortilla, lettuce, salsa fresca, avocado, Jack cheese, shredded chicken, sour cream and scallions), Coffee-rubbed Pork Roast with Ancho Mushroom Sauce, Veracruz-style Baked Red Snapper (crushed tomatoes, green olives, capers, cinnamon) and, for dessert, Traditional Flan and Cinnamon Sugar-Dusted Churros with Mexican Chocolate Fondue. Cotton mixologist Peaches Paige said she plans to create a special cocktail with hibiscus tequila with blue agave.
The taco tour will give Tom Puskarich, chef and owner of Z Food & Drink (860 Elm St., Manchester) a chance to showcase his new taco menu, which will be a permanent addition to his offerings. The new menu, which Puskarich said he planned before the challenge was announced, will feature beef tongue, crispy pork belly, duck and veggie tacos.
“Tacos provided an avenue for me to shake up my menu here,” Puskarich said.
Pop-up bands, which Reese described as musicians grouped for the first time specifically for this event, will perform traditional and modern music at Jillian’s, Strange Brew, the Black Brimmer and Murphy’s, from 6 to 10 p.m., or until the venue’s scheduled band takes the stage. “The whole point of this is fun,” Reese said.
As part of a promotion with the event’s beer sponsor, a stand-up cardboard version of the “Most Interesting Man in the World” — the face of Dos Equis, known for his catch phrase “stay thirsty, my friends” — will be at various locations throughout the tour for photo opportunities. Many locations will host the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” but the main event, the “Most Interesting Man in the World” lookalike contest, will be held at the Black Brimmer at 9:30 p.m. The winner will take home a framed portrait of the
“Most Interesting Man in the World” and a $100 gas card.
Jay Baldassara, sales manager Great State Beverage, who will oversee the Most Interesting Man competition, said he and his staff will vote but ultimately the crowd will decide which contestant bears the closest resemblance to the face of Dos Equis.
“It’s sort of a fun, goofy thing that speaks to the lightheartedness of the event,” Reese said. Cuervo Silver will also offer specialty drinks at a few tour stops.
Taco tourists will be able to vote for their favorites on their cell phones using the phone numbers that will appear on the tour maps.
“It will be a bit like American Idol but with tacos,” Reese said. Each person will get 10 votes, which Reese said will allow them to spread out their support for their favorite tacos throughout the three-hour event. Votes can also be used to support the creative Cuervo libations that will be served at many of the tour’s stops.
The results will be texted to voters around 10 p.m. on the night of the event, Reese said. The results will also be posted on
Facebook (www.facebook.com/hippodemayo) and Twitter (@hippotaco).