Few events throughout the granite state garner as much attention as Manchester’s Taco Tour, a festival devoted to the humble handheld meal.
Now in it’s ninth year, the event features numerous area restaurants dishing out an original taco creation for $2 a piece. Attendees have the opportunity to vote for their favorites, with The Gyro Spot winning the People’s Choice Award and Cheddar and Rye winning the Judge’s Choice Pick last year.
This year’s event was organized by Intown Manchester, a nonprofit organization that promotes outdoor maintenance, support of local businesses and event planning and promotion in the downtown Manchester area. Live music, trolley rides to distant vendors and the closing off of Elm street to vehicles served to further the accessibility of the event.
Despite the late-autumn temperatures and overcast skies, the event was more grandiose than ever, with attendees flooding the streets and over sixty businesses offering tacos and refreshments.
Trying every taco is a nearly impossible goal from both a time and gastrointestinal standpoint (ever eat sixty tacos in one sitting). I sampled a wide selection, enough to feel satiated, but not to the point of intacocation. Below are some of the highlights of my taco tour experience.
Baked Downtown Café and Bakery; Cookies and Cream Cheesecake Soft Taco
Starting with dessert (because why not?), Baked made a statement with it’s cheesecake-inspired taco creation. A flour tortilla filled with cheesecake filling and Oreo cookies and drizzled with chocolate qualifies as an unrestrained attack on the arteries. Although purists will view this madness as blasphemy, those willing to give a try were rewarded with a creamy, chocolaty novelty that begs to be eaten. Also, there is something wonderfully intriguing about eating cheesecake sans utensils.
Republic; Potato Dosa Taco
Manchester’s OG farm to table eatery put out their annual potato dosa taco with red cabbage slaw. Their taco consisted of a soft flour tortilla filled with a curry-spiced mashed potato mixture and sesame-spiked red cabbage. Traditionally, a dosa is a South Indian Crepe made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils and stuffed with a variety of fillings, with curry-spiced potatoes being especially common. This fusion version replaced the crepe with a tortilla. The fragrant, mildly spicy potatoes and nutty slaw made for a boldly flavored taco.
Buba Noodle Bar; Banh Zeo Taco
Among the most unusual offerings was Buba Noodle Bar’s Banh Zeo taco. At first glance, the shell for this taco appears to be a standard crispy corn tortilla, but it is actually a traditional Vietnamese crepe made from rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric. The batter is poured into a screaming hot pan, creating a crispy, lacy shell. Buba filled theirs with pulled chicken, lettuce, bean sprouts, egg and a hoison-spiked mayo. Eating it was a messy experience, but well worth the effort.
Madear’s; Southern Cajun Taco
Tucked away on Hanover street, Madear’s specializes in southern comfort food, and their taco followed this theme. The centerpiece of their taco was fried pork butt coated with a wonderfully smoky and spicy blend of spices. The pork was tender and meaty, with a nicely crisp exterior that you could really sink your teeth into. Tabasco added an additional hit of spice, while a dollop of sour cream and some lettuce served to extinguish the flames.
Campo Enoteca; Eggplant Polpetti Taco
Campo’s vegetarian take on an Italian meatball features a pureed eggplant mixture that’s fried to a crisp. The creamy roasted eggplant interior contrasted nicely with the crisp exterior, and the ball was nicely seasoned. Piquillo pepper relish added a touch of acid and sweetness and a swipe of velvety artichoke puree contributed an additional touch of creaminess. The result was a very well-balanced taco with an assortment of flavors and textures.
The Birch on Elm; Slow Roasted Chicken Taco
My favorite taco came from the folks at The Birch in Elm, who created a simple yet well-executed handheld that hit all the right notes. Their slow-roasted chicken taco boasted charred corn salsa and cilantro chimichurri. The former provided a mild smokiness and sweetness, while the latter contributed a bright herbal flavor that contributed immensely to the final product. Also, the tortillas themselves were by far the softest and most pliable I ate all day. As an added bonus, they were the most aesthetically pleasing tacos that I encountered that day as well.
This year’s taco tour was a massive feast for the senses. None of it would have been possible without the commitment of Intown Manchester and the countless restaurants and businesses who put the time and effort into creating memorable bites for the community.