What I Learned from Viva La Local Food Festival

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Twisted Tandoor's lamb curry was full of flavor with just the right amount of heat. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • Twisted Tandoor's lamb curry was full of flavor with just the right amount of heat.

Local food lovers swarmed to Rillito Park Race Track on Saturday, April 18 for Viva La Local's spring event. The event, which was so successful in previous years that it's become bi-annual, fuses a farmers market with a tasting event—at least that's what I expected before going.

The first thing I realized about the event was that the tasting sizes were actually massive. Each sample ran $5, which seemed pricey until you saw the dishes. While the price matched the portion, it did make it a bit difficult to try out more than two or three of the spots before getting uncomfortably full. That's why the first lesson learned is bring a friend or two or three—that way you can all get different things and swap bites for maximum coverage.

The next bump in the road was actually a little rougher to overcome once planted at the festival. There was one water fountain that I could find and water was being sold for $1 at the Hydration Tent, though it was cash only. So, when the fest returns on October 31, be sure to bring either cash or your own water bottle or you'll find yourself mighty thirsty with only beer and wine to comfort you. (The token booth took credit cards so you're able to swipe for food and booze.)

Other than that, be sure to bring a big floppy hat or a hefty dose of sunscreen because shade at Viva La Local is like the spice in "Dune"—hard to come by and even harder to give up once you've had a taste.

In terms of the best bites of the day, Twisted Tandoor's beef and feta samosas with an herbed yogurt as well as their spiced lamb curry were in the top. Pasco Kitchen and Lounge also impressed with their sweet and spicy ancho chile barbecue sauce. Sentinel Peak Brewing's Salida del Sol amber was well matched with any of these options.

While a few of the vendors went for carb-centric dishes, like La Plancha's South American chicharone sandwich with yucca fries, just be aware that those carbs take up precious stomach room at a festival where you really do want to try all of the tasty offerings at each table. The Cafe at the YWCA served a nice, light and flavorful gazpacho on the other end of the filling spectrum.

Interestingly enough, two of the first places to start running out of product were Benson's Sleeping Frog Farms and AZ Pops popsicles. If you're looking to actually get some serious farmers market shopping accomplished, come early next time. Also, if you want a pineapple serrano or peach basil popsicle, you should get one before they're gone too. 

Viva La Local is certainly a good opportunity to connect with local food purveyors, both in the restaurant world and on the farm. Plus, it goes to benefit the Heirloom Farmers Markets, which gives us weekly access to those purveyors throughout the year. While it isn't like other events like Savor that offer little bites from restaurants at a flat rate, it does give attendees the option to either spend $6 on admission and enjoy the surrounding or dish out $5 tokens as they see fit.

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