Monday, July 28, 2008

Oxnard Salsa Festival

The 15th Annual Salsa Festival happened this last weeekend. "A Salsa Festival?", you may be asking. "You mean the food or the dance?" In this case the answer is both. I have a general love for all things salsa (the food), so this festival is right up my alley. It seems that every time I turn around, Oxnard is hosting a festival. There is the Strawberry Festival, a Pirate Festival, and now I have been to the Salsa Festival.

Here is what the organizers say about the event:

"Fifteen years ago the idea for the Salsa Festival was brought to fruition by a group of downtown merchants. It began at Plaza Park in 1994 with a handful of vendors, a few bands, and salsa served around the Pagoda by local restaurants and residents. Over the years as the popularity of salsa music and dance exploded, and salsa (the sauce) became the #1 condiment in America, so grew the popularity of the Oxnard Salsa Festival as a celebration of all things salsa– the food, the music and the dance. Today, the Salsa Festival is Oxnard’s largest free community event, attracting an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 people to downtown every summer."

As you can see in this image the salsas come in every form imaginable. There is the standard pico de gallo, some tomatillo and jalapeno based salsas, and plenty of habanero peppers to go around. There are two options for the tastings. 1.) Go to the individual booths and get a free sample. 2.) Go to the tasting tent and pay $5.00 for 10 tastings and a bag of Mission Tortilla chips. I chose to do both. My favorite salsa of the day turned out to be one of the free samples outside the tent. The tent was an experience. I chose the wrong day, or at least time of day to visit. I live right on the water, so I am used to the coastal breeze being something of a constant. When I go downtown, the breeze is not so strong sometimes. It was a little warm for my taste. Add a tent to trap the heat, a large crowd and some spicy salsa, and it was a recipe for some serious discomfort. That being said, the tasting tent was pretty good.

In the tasting tent, I initially tried to avoid the chain restaurants, such as El Torrito and Acapulco. I wanted to give the little guys a chance. There were some really good salsas available. The best mild salsa had to be from a small Italian/Mediterranean restaurant called La Dulce Vita. They only served a mild, and it was a great way to cool the tongue after some of the hotter salsas. I would recommend you try it if you end up in their restaurant. I tried some of the salsas that won "best heat" and "best in show" from last year, but there was no heat to be found. Of the 30 plus salsas I tasted, only three were actually hot. Most were very mild, and some fell somewhere between medium and hot. I prefer hot salsas, but I love a good flavor. Almost all of the salsas had great flavor, and most of them were pretty unique.

Some of the small restaurants I have been to or at least have heard of were there. This included one of my favorite downtown Oxnard restaurants, the Cabo Seafood Grill and Cantina. My wife and I go here at least a couple of times a month when we can. The food is very good, as is the salsa. I asked the lady serving the salsa if she had brought the Diablo salsa which I order each time I go to the restaurant. She was pleasantly surprised that I knew what that was, but unfortunately hadn't brought it. She told me she had a new salsa to introduce, so I gave it a taste. It was really good. It could have been hotter, but the flavor was very good, and very unique to that restaurant. I will ask for it next time I visit them.

Here are some of the things festival-goers had a chance to experience:

  • Seven Salsa Bands
  • Salsa Tasting Tent ($5)
  • International Foods
  • Great Shopping – Arts, Craft, Retail & Salsa Vendors
  • Salsa Recipe Contest Festival Souvenirs
  • Salsa Dancing Beer & Margarita Gardens
  • Kids Korner Salsa Art & Music Factory for Kids

There were so many excellent salsas available to taste. I enjoyed almost every one I tried. There were bound to be a few outliers, and this festival proved to be no exception. I did all my tastings without a beverage, so when I found a bad one, I had to rush to the next booth to get a new flavor in my mouth. I wanted to be sure I felt the heat of each one to the fullest extent possible, hence the no drink thing. As I mentioned above, there were only a few that were actually hot enough to tempt me to find a drink.

Here are my top picks from the festival:

  • Spiciest Salsa (with best flavor): Hollywood Beach Salsa Company
  • Spiciest Salsa (based on heat alone): El Coyote Bar & Grill
  • Best Medium Salsa: Tie - El Coyote Bar & Grill, and Cabo Seafood Grill and Cantina
  • Best Medium Salsa (runner up): Sal's Mexican Inn
  • Best Mild Salsa: La Dulce Vita
  • Best Mild Salsa (runner up): Jala-Fresca Inc. (their whole line from medium-extra hot)
  • Best in Show: Hollywood Beach Salsa Company

Like I said, most of the salsas I tasted were excellent. I really enjoyed the festival. Next year I will plan ahead and bring my own chips. :) I happened to be driving by this year and am glad I stopped. Where else can you walk around tasting some of Southern California's best salsas? I hope you will join me for next year's festival. You can read more about the festival at their website: Oxnard Salsa Festival.


DineometerDeb said...

Sounds great. I love salsa AND salsa music. Was the Food Network there?

Michelle Gartner said...

Looking good- I can't wait for our tomatoes to come in and make fresh salsa. Unfortunately salsa stinks in Wisconsin, we are from Colorado and there are much better varieties to be had there.

I can be found here
One of a Kind Wisconsin.

Anonymous said...

I have been making salsa for some time but this year I have canned up some killer salsa verde straight from my organically home grown tomatillos...first time for it and yes, we have a winner here.

Great post...enjoyed ya.

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