I’m usually late or just on time for a lot of events, but not for the Pittsburgh Taco Festival! I got there early, parked on a side street two blocks from Hop Farm Brewery and then stood in the line that was already forming to get in. The one gentleman in front of me had on sneakers with tacos on them, and I knew I was in the right place. I told him that his shoes were awesome, and it turned out to be Walter Aguirre, the owner of LA Taco Truck in Armstrong County, so we had a lot to talk about in line! Sadly, he couldn’t participate due to taco truck difficulties. I thought the line we were in was for the taco festival itself, but it was the line to verify age to get a bracelet to drink. The next line further down the street was to scan the ticket and enter into the festival which went quickly and smoothly.
There were two sessions for the festival. The first session was from 12 to 3pm and the second one from 4 to 7pm. I only picked the second session over the first session because I had a wedding in Ohio the day before and I didn’t not want to rush getting back to Pittsburgh and possibly lose a single minute of time inside the Taco Festival.
The event was all outdoors for the most part. When you walk in there are tents to the left and right of merchandise, an Allegheny Cleanways tent, and a few other vendors to check out. I was very excited to meet up with Bridget McNamaee (who along with Craig McCloud both of whom ALSO run Popsburgh), were the founders of the Taco Fest. It was nice putting a face to the name after talking back and forth some on Facebook! Also, the festival t-shirts were some of the softest shirts I’ve ever seen at an event, so I was glad to get one.
The first taco vendor I saw was for El Burro and next to that was Randita’s (which is an organic vegan truck), but went past them initially to check out the whole layout. Moving on back to the left, a whole stage was set up with the band Gavas Beat performing. The group had a lot of members, playing a variety of upbeat hispanic music to keep the crowd smiling and dancing. They had a multitude of members from all across South and Latin America, and their sound fit the vibe of the Taco Festival perfectly. At one point they even brought people up on stage to dance along with them! Across from the band, there was a photo booth inside a little trainer. I planned on taking a new photo strip since I messed up all the photos I took at El Vez in Philadelphia, but I decided that it was probably in my best interest to check out the taco trucks first!
Next I saw all the taco trucks lined up on both sides around the bend. On the right, they had Bae Taco Town, PGH taco truck, La Palapa, and Taco Shelly’s. On the left was Vagabond Taco Truck and Edgar’s Best Tacos. Missing from the list that was originally planning on being there was Las Palmas, Mission Mahi, Round Corner Cantina, Bakersfield and Taqueria La Sabrosa. On the drive in, I did see the Mission Mahi truck leaving, so I will assume judging by how the 2nd session ended they were just running out of tacos!
My goal at the festival was to try one taco from most of the vendors. After I saw the lines, I thought that this might be very hard to do but I stuck with my one taco limit. I started with Edgar’s Best Tacos because I have never been to their truck before. I believe their truck is located in the strip district on a daily basis somewhere around 26th street. Edgar’s Best Tacos truck had a long line, but moved at a steady rate. They also came prepared with two stations. One line for the truck, and another line for their tacos (and so many other specialties!) at a tent beside the truck. My first taco at Edgar’s (and the Taco Festival) was a pulled pork taco with onions, cilantro, chopped tomato, crema, and cheese. The meat and fillings came on a single layer corn tortilla. They had different spice levels of salsa to pick from by the register. I believe their tacos were $3 each plus tax. I really enjoyed every bite of the authentic style tacos. I felt like it was a healthy decision (with the toppings) and really enjoyed the friendly staff. I am wondering if that was Edgar himself at the register.
After I tasted the first taco, a few more of my friends arrived so we picked another truck to try out. We tried the taco truck in the very back of the festival. It took me a few minutes to locate the name of the taco place on the truck. Taco Shelly’s was the name. When the line didn’t look like it was moving fast, we split up to get in more taco time so we had people standing in Shelly’s Taco line while my friend and I went to El Burro.
It started to rain while transitioning to El Burro. Usually, I bring my travel umbrella in case of rain but Weatherbug called for no rain. This was one of the few times Weatherbug let me down so I used my fleece as an umbrella. The rain was not going to come between tacos and I.
El Burro’s line moved a lot faster than most lines. I think it helped that they made it clear that there were only had two options: goat or pork ($4.00/taco). After placing my order for another pork taco, I moved to the pickup line. Next came the fun part of dressing the taco on your own. I used a lot of chopped onion, cilantro, pineapple, and a squirt of lime juice. I did not use the verde sauce like I did when I went to their Northside brick and mortar, but just a mild orangish color sauce instead. The pork and goat were being grilled right in front of us in line. The pork was cut into chunks and grilled until golden brown. There were some fatty parts of the pork I removed, but other than that it was perfect. I dressed it well and I just love the pork and pineapple combination. The double layer corn shell tortilla was so fluffy and airy, being one of my favorite corn tortillas. Oh, and big announcement, El Burro will have a second location opening up soon in addition to the one on Federal Street in the Northside area, El Burro Dos in Regent Square!
By the time we walked to El Burro, waited in line, and got our food, the rest of the gang were still in line at Shelly’s. We fed them their El Burro tacos, and soon enough we were up next. While waiting to place our order, I took a glance at their business card. Taco Shelly’s is a truck located in Glenshaw, Pa. We did not have a clue what they had at this truck because the menu was not posted. I think the process would have been quicker if a menu of the options was posted out front to speed up the ordering time at the register. They had hard or soft shell tacos with pork, beef, or chicken options. (2 tacos for $5.50) It also took longer when ordering soft shells because they were heating up the tortillas in the microwave. Nothing stood out about these tacos except the salsa tasted very fresh and homemade. The cheese, lettuce, and shells were standard and all store bought. The chicken was a little dry and bland. I don’t know if I would go back to that place after liking the other two taco trucks so much more.
After Shelly’s we waited in line for PGH Taco Truck. With the slow moving line, it was a good time to grab a beer during the wait. I had a Hop Farm Heffer (a Hefeweizen brewed right on site!) The line was not moving fast and at this point, it was close to seven. I saw Bea Taco Town run out of supplies so I thought in case PGH taco truck runs out, we better split up lines again so I went to wait for La Palapa. If you remember from my La Palapa blog, I LOVED their beef tacos and I believe they have the best. So I was very excited to order a beef taco for my friend to try. Sadly, La Palapa also ran out before I could order, so I quickly jumped back into Edgar’s Best Tacos line. I was also going to try Randita’s, but they were already long gone.
Since I already tried Edgars Best Tacos pork, I ordered the beef. It was juicy but not too runny. But I still love the beef at La Palapa a tidbit more.
PGH Taco Truck probably had the largest sized tacos with so much meat inside. I had a spicy jerk chicken with an avocado lime cream. It was a little spicy, and I could barely handle the heat by the end of the taco but it was so worth it. The taco was dressed simple, just the spicy shredded jerk chicken and avocado sauce, but it didn’t need anything else. The chicken tasted like it had been marinating for days. The avocado cream was not bland and toned down the spicy chicken just a bit. The beef taco with the verde sauce was also just as amazing. The sauce was almost like a gel consistency, not thin or runny. Also of interest – the beef is locally supplied by Clarion Farms. As it turns out, La Palapa also get their beef from Clarion Farms. I think I might be onto something here.
Also at the taco festival was a chihuahua dog costume contest. Since I was with other friends and we were preoccupied with filling up on tacos, I missed the contest. I’m not sure if it happened or not due to the weather, but either way the entertainment from Gavas Beat was more than enough to keep me in the taco mood!
All in all, I had a good experience at the first annual Taco Festival from the live entertainment to the tacos themselves. I didn’t get to try as many tacos as I would have liked to though. I paced myself well by only getting one taco per place, which was hard to do after waiting in a long line. I wanted to try Bae Taco Town and Round Corner Cantina and get my favorite beef taco at La Palapa. However, because I really liked the tacos at Edgar’s and the PGH Taco truck, I will try their tacos soon. Hopefully at the next festival there will be more vendors to disperse the crowd, and maybe a slightly larger space so I can try more tacos. I am definitely looking forward to the second annual Pittsburgh Taco Festival!