Salsa Festival de Novato 9/10/06
Has anyone been to this annual festival in Novato? It's on this Sunday at 11:00 and since I plan to be up there anyway I'm going to drop by and check it out. I guess it's a latino heritage festival featuring salsa music as well as the "pico de gallo" variety. The tiny bit of press I found about it mentioned a jalapeno eating contest and a tamale eating contest. And while I'm generally opposed to eating contests, the idea of watching a bunch of macho men scarf jalapenos could be funny...for a few minutes. Odds are pretty good that there will be tamales for the rest of us too! I plan to show up hungry and will be sure to report back.
The festival was really fun, though relatively small as far as these events go. There was a diverse mix of people there and all announcements from the main stage were given in spanish and english. It was a family oriented event with some games for kids, clowns and many booths offering info on various community groups and organizations. There were also crafts booths and tables from latino owned local businesses. Of course, there was music and traditional dancing on a main stage and smaller bands set up along Grant Street. It was a nice hot day and the vibe was very friendly.
On to the food... These booths were the big draw of the event and, surprisingly, good variety among booths. Though it was a "latino" event, it seemed to me that most of the food was Mexican. There were two booths selling pupusas but the one I bought from was called "Orgullo Yucateco" or something like that, so I guess they were Mexican too. Good pupusa revuleta with pork and cheese and a nice tangy curtido with a few bits of fresh oregano. They were making these to order so it took a while but it was fun to watch the whole process - and the result was quite tasty. I don't think this place is a restaurant but rather home cooks raising money for the folk dancing group by the same name.
I also tried a taco al pastor from El Gallo which has taquerias in Novato and Petaluma. The flavor of the pork was excellent and I loved the salsa picante. The only bummer was that the tortillas, like all the offerings at this booth, were in a little steam table stacked on top of each other so they were stuck together. Nonetheless, I will go looking for their restaurant and try it again. Horchata was nice too.
Side note: while I was eating this one, a taco afficionado Novato local asked how it was and then launched into his list of favorites in the area. One bit I remember was his passionate endorsement of La Hacienda taqueria's taco al pastor with the "green sauce". This place is right on the main drag, Grant Street, and is also a fave of my sister's. A must try for my next visit.
The highlight of the day was the birria taco from Quezada Market's booth. WOW! I have never tried a goat meat taco before and was delighted. I couldn't stop talking about it for the rest of the day. I've eaten goat in other preparations, but this blew me away. The Quezada booth was a pro operation with a griddle for carne asada and heating the tortillas. The birria chunks were pulled from a large pot balanced over a gas burner and cleaved into shreds before my eyes. The meat was tender and incredibly flavorful. I think Melanie posted about this place before but their market is right at the Rowland exit near Redwood ave. I haven't been in there yet but now I have a reason. I really look forward to eating more of those tacos and trying some other stuff from their takeout area.
I was super full at this point so I didn't eat more, but I will say that the full plates coming from Casa de Palmar's booth looked really good. Really nice looking tamales with refried beans and rice and a plate with what looked like short ribs. There was no menu posted for this booth. They also have a market and taqueria on Grant in Novato.
After all this eating, we wanted a refreshment. Staying within the family fun concept, there was no alcohol served at the festival so we walked down Grant to las Guitarras. Along the way we checked out the various tables entered in the salsa competition (the edible kind) as well as more folk dancing and bands playing on the sidewalk. Lots of local biz owners were hanging out with their freinds and families watching the scene.
At las Guitarras restaurant, they have a nice big patio with a fountain and white painted wrought iron tables with umbrellas. The owners were outside and everyone working there was really friendly. We told them we just stuffed ourselves at the festival and asked if it was OK if we just sat outside and had some margaritas. They were very accommodating and it felt great to sit down in the shade with a cold drink. The margs themselves were nothing special (sour mix variety) but just what we were looking for. This place has a humungous menu and my sis and bro in law did try it a month or so ago and thought it was OK. Neither of them ordered seafood, which seemed to be their specialty so it may be worth another whirl to try something to eat.
All in all it was a fun day and I recommend the festival to the hounds for next year.