Did I Overindulge at This Year’s Taco Libre Festival? Absolutely! And I’d Do It Again.

I survived Taco Libre 2016 — and, by that, I really mean I survived myself.

It was a lot to take in. There were some 20 standout DFW taco shops on hand at this Main Street Garden Park-hosted event on Saturday — in addition live music performances, professional wrestling matches and all kinds of booze, too. Basically, Taco Libre practically dared its attendees to overindulge.

That’s to be expected, I suppose. What’s the point of going to a festival with this much fun and food crammed into it if you don’t leave at least a little worried about the state of your general health? There really isn’t one, I’d argue.

 

And so I dove right in on Saturday afternoon and evening, embracing the taco and its universal appeal. As much as Taco Libre is buoyed by its offerings of music and wrestling, it has to be said: The main draw here is sitting in the event’s name itself. The preponderance of taco-themed attire worn by event-goers certainly corroborated the organizers’ belief that there is a genuine taco culture to be capitalized upon. It’s also worth noting that this appeal is a bit of a demographic smasher: Turn your head one direction and you’d see a flock of young, terminally hip people who emphasized the trendiness of the gathering; look another direction and you’d see a cluster of families with small children.

Yes, the unifying power of delicious street cuisine was on full display in Downtown Dallas this weekend. Tickets to the event this year even sold out before the gates opened, with attendance capped at 5,000 revelers. I arrived about a half an hour before general admission, and good thing. By the time the masses were allowed in, the line had wrapped around the side of the check-in area, extending down the block and, at its end, completely out of view.

 

Despite the volume of bodies milling about the park, though, it never felt chaotic. It helps that this year’s event was granted more space, with taco vendors placed on a closed off Main Street, at a slight remove from where the crowds gathered on the park grass. Lines could grow long at points, but not to an unreasonable degree. Look at it this way: If you were trying to pick up lunch at Wendy’s, you’d be justifiably upset at the typical wait; but at a festival where the best tacos around are being made available to dedicated taco fans, it was fine. Main Street Park was largely open to crowd movement, with the space book-ended by a stage for music on one end, and a wrestling ring on the other.

On the subject of entertainment:Taco Libre isn’t the only area festival to feature wrestling on its bill, but there still seems to be an attractive novelty to its inclusion just the same. It took time for the pull of both stages to really suck in a respectable number of onlookers, but that could have been a simple matter of people getting acclimated to the event and still trying to eat (which, y’know, is why we were all there to begin with). Even so, wrestling seemed to have the early advantage when it came to luring an audience.

 

Bands have the advantage and disadvantage of being enjoyable from a distance — you can listen to their music from across the park, but they don’t get the immediate feedback you provide by being physically engaged and close to the stage. Still, as the evening wore on, larger groups began assembling for the music. The headlining act, Mariachi El Bronx, kept the energy of the crowd up even as the event wound down to a close.

Wrestling was a big attraction — one of the most prominently advertised headliners of the event was lucha libre icon Blue Demon Jr., who was on hand to sign autographs and wrestle in the main event — but the majority of the audience appeared to have an iffy familiarity with it. The announcer’s role was effectively just to feed chants to the crowd, and it didn’t work as often as he likely would have preferred. The matches seemed designed to impress and excite a potentially distracted crowd that had a limited knowledge of the medium, which was a smart approach. Oh, and there was this one other thing.

“Does that guy have a Swastika on his leg?” I overheard this many times in reference to one of the masked villains in the main event tag match. Yes, he did, right on his tights. It’s not new to play on Nazism in wrestling — Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of Texas’ Von Erich clan, was originally billed as an “evil German,” with the implication being exactly what you think it is — but it’s definitely still weird to see it happen in 2016. The Swastika-wearer here squared off against Blue Demon Jr. and his partner, The Mayan Warrior Aski, and since Blue Demon Jr. was a headlining attraction, it should be obvious who won. But it was entertaining just the same, as the match had competitive moments along with some treachery. The referee tried to help the bad guys, but oh did he ever get his comeuppance once the good guys got their hands on him. In all, it was meant to be a fun showcase of lucha libre, and it succeeded in that effort.

 

As for the tacos? First off, I had eight of them. I’m not proud of that, but I won’t deny that it happened. I also had a few drinks; there were a variety of Jarritos sodas available, as well as harder stuff like beer, margaritas, and other mixed drinks. One booth used different juices from The Juice Bar to produce unique cocktails. There was something for almost everyone at Taco Libre to be sure, but it’s not exactly a haven for the health-conscious.

As much as I hate to admit it, there was no feasible way for me to sample a taco from all of the vendors. I’m not saying I would have died if I had, but there would have been consequences I was not ready to face. What I can do is account for what I did consume. They’re listed below, along with some notes, in the order in which they were eaten. Just know this: Everything was damn good, and I’m not going to impose competition where it isn’t needed. Taco Libre doesn’t rank its vendors, and I lack the expertise to try doing so myself. Still, I’m keen to revisit every place I tried, and it’s hard to beat praise like repeat business.

Chili Pepper Grill. One asada taco, one suadero taco. Both were pretty straightforward, with no fancy flourishes to speak of. But there was an appreciated spiciness to the asada.
La Nueva Fresh & Hot. One pork taco. Very delicious, and featuring an intimidating-but-ultimately-delightful red sauce.
Holy Frijole. One chicharron taco. This one used pork skin, which was unexpected, but agreeably so. It didn’t have the nuclear heat they promised, but, to be fair, it was messy and I did lose a notable amount of the sauce to general spillage.
El Padrino. One barbacoa taco, one chicken fajita taco. This vendor had the longest wait between ordering and receiving tacos, but they were very much worth that wait.
Tacos Mariachi.. One carnitas taco, one pulpo taco. I’m not an adventurous eater by nature, but “pulpo” means octopus. I had a taco with octopus, guys. And it was awesome. The carnitas was also quite tasty.

 

I didn’t attend last year’s first go at this festival, but it was pretty clear that the second-ever Taco Libre used the lessons learned last year to provide a better-organized festival — most notably in the fact that, unlike last year’s event which saw taco vendors running out of food before dusk, this year’s supply held well into the night. It would stand to reason that such progress will continue for years to come. Really, it would take an act of dreadful mismanagement to stop this event from continuing to grow and garnering more notice.

Could we be on the cusp of a bona fide new tourist draw for DFW? Maybe? Either way, it’s safe to say this event will continue to grow, and likely beyond the attendance-constricting confines of Main Street Garden Park.

Personally, I only really have one suggestion to the organizers for future festivals. Maybe add in a marathon or half-marathon before the event proper? That might not sound fun, but it would sure help offset all of the calories we’ll be taking in.

 

All photos by Ashley Gongora.
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