As a three-year veteran of the Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge, and also a self-proclaimed Taco Ambassador, I have learned the ins and outs of this awesome yearly event. I truly, truly love the taco challenge, and it’s one of those things that if I didn’t already live here I’d probably travel to it. The World’s Largest Taco Tour–in Manchester New Hampshire? It’s not the most likely combination that comes to mind but it’s definitely unique and lots of fun.
I’ve put together a list of the Top 10 Taco Tour Tips you’ll need for having the best experience. Whether this is your first time going, or maybe you want to improve on the efficiency of previous years, here we go…..
1. Walking Shoes
This is a walking event, so wear proper footwear! You gotta be comfortable. Lots of walking and standing in line can mean blisters if you’re not prepared, so treat it like you’ll be pounding the pavement for at least a couple of miles, because you will!
2. Empty Stomach
Personally I have breakfast, and a very light lunch, and then nothing else the rest of the day in preparation for this Gastro-Event! You’ll be stuffing yourself silly so don’t waste valuable calories or stomach space on things like, you know….. lunch… or anything crazy like that. My hydration plan goes like this: bring some water but leave it in the car. Don’t drink too much before you go, because you know…. finding a bathroom could be less than a huge priority, depending on how hard you want to look for one. But you will likely get thirsty with all that eating and walking, and purchasing beverages takes up valuable time! I just leave it in the car and drink when I get back. Ha!
Many most, if not all, stations are cash-only, so bring tons of cash and small bills if you can. All tacos are $2 each. You’ll want to plan ahead and bring it with you, as there are not many ATMs downtown for some reason. One of the pitfalls of the early years was that people were trying to pay with cards and that held up the lines SOOOOO long. No bueno! Bring your cash with you.
4. Have a Plan
The Hippo publishes a map of downtown, along with all the participating restaurants with descriptions of their tacos, the week before the event. The Hippo comes out on Thursdays (but you can often find it by Wednesday afternoons in some spots). Get you a paper and study it! This is your STRATEGY. I go through and circle all my “Must-Haves” based on the tacos I know I definitely want to eat, and start planning a route accordingly. Normally we start on Elm Street in the vicinity of Republic and work our way down Elm St, with little loops back to Firefly, Consuelo’s, etc (all those that are just slightly off of Elm St) and walk the whole way, ending at El Rincon and heading back up. But you need to always START with the one that you want the most. Tacos do not last all night!
5. Start Early
The taco tour is from 5pm-9pm but that does NOT mean that there will be tacos available for that whole period of time. Many of the popular spots run out within an hour. Avoid disappointment and be in line AT 5:00. For us, we know that Republic often sells out of their falafel tacos very early, so we have our hineys in line at 4:57. Also, you can hit many more spots in a short amount of time when you start early, because people aren’t even off of work yet. The crowds don’t hit their peak until about 6:30-7:00. This year, for example, we were at Finesse Pastries by 5:34 and had already eaten SIX tacos by then. The lesson here is: hit it hard, and hit it fast so you don’t risk getting stuck in long lines while the tacos are selling out.
The cool thing about arriving by 5:00 is that there is plenty of on-street parking (bring money for the meters which require a ticket on your dash until 8pm). Downtown employees are leaving, and the masses of taco tourists have not yet arrived. If you can’t find parking on the street, a really good parking garage option is the Victory Park garage which is in a good location for hitting up Elm Street restaurants, as is the parking lot right behind City Hall. See also Manchester’s Parking Division maps for more options.
7. Stay Informed
For those of you who are plugged in to your phones all the time, a great way to keep up with real-time updates is to follow Hippo de Mayo on Facebook, and also @hippotaco on Twitter. Communication varies from year to year–sometimes there are frequent updates and sometimes there are very few. But many times you will at least hear from other folks where the tacos have sold out, the length of the lines, etc. Hey, it’s just like DisneyWorld!
8. Walk & Drive
Not all of the downtown restaurants are on the Elm Street “strip.” Many great restaurants with wonderful taco offerings are elsewhere downtown and you will probably need to drive to them. Down in the Millyard you’ll find Cotton and Fratello’s, and 900 Degrees. Likewise, on the other end past Granite Street you ‘ll find a great cluster of places like the Hilton, Murphy’s Taproom, and various clubs that often change names from year to year. Take note: when you visit restaurants that do not get the heavy foot traffic from the taco tourists, they will many times not have a station set up to crank out the tacos. Some of them will actually create an order for the tacos, punch it in to the computer, go back to the kitchen to prepare it, box it up for you, etc. My husband and I do not wait for this kind of thing. If we arrive at a restaurant and they don’t have the tacos out and ready to hand off immediately, we keep going. Ain’t nobody got time for that! The Hilton, however does have exceptional tacos, so a couple of times we have ended our evening there when we were full and tired, and willing to sit at a table and wait for the tacos to come out. But that is definitely an exception and not the rule.
9. Tag Team
Maximize your efficiency by having multiple people stand in lines at neighboring restaurants! My husband and I do this all the time. He’ll stand in one line while I go next door and wait in the other line, and we meet back up and eat our tacos. Double the tacos in half the time!
Finally, in keeping with the Taco Tour’s spirit of charity, make sure you vote for your favorite taco so that the winner can secure $1000 for their charity of choice. Voting takes place via text messages, and the voting codes can be found on the Hippo’s Taco Map. I almost always vote for whoever is competing for the Manchester Animal Shelter. You get 10 votes per phone number.
As you can see, if you’re really serious about making the most of the Taco Challenge, some advance planning and strategy is needed and will go a long way towards ensuring that you can hit the maximum number of restaurants in the shortest and most efficient period of time. Using this plan, the hubs and I average 9-11 tacos per year and have rarely encountered places that sell out, because we’re DONE by 7-7:30.
I hope you enjoyed this post! If you found it helpful, please feel free to click “Like” or share it on your Facebook wall so that others can benefit too! Do you have any tips of your own to add? Leave it in the comments!