Manchester’s most beloved annual event is back. Taco Tour Manchester, after being put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, made its miraculous return to the city in 2022. On May 4, 2023, from 4 to 8 p.m. in downtown Manchester, the event will make its sophomore appearance under the direction of the Greater Manchester Chamber and Cole Riel — who’s passionate as ever to fill Elm Street with tacos. “It was like two years without a Santa Clause for the city,” Riel, the Chamber’s director of small business and community development, says. “Last year was us figuring out the logistics, and this year we’re perfecting what was already successful about the event. It’s great to have everyone excited for the Tour this year and have a better understanding of what to expect.”
For four hours on the eve of Cinco de Mayo, Manchester residents will have the chance to eat their way through the city’s cuisine vis-à-vis taco. Over 90 restaurants are planning to set up shop on Elm Street and sling tacos for $3-a-piece (cash-only). Last year, Riel says he saw (and tasted) an impressive potpourri of varying tacos, from Alley Cat Pizzeria’s pizza taco (Riel’s 2022 favorite), to Piccola Italia Ristorante’s chicken parmesan caesar salad taco, to the 2022 “Best Taco” award-winning Firefly American Bistro & Bar’s more traditional offering: a soft flour tortilla with seasoned chicken, cheddar, Mexican rice and hot-and-smoky chipotle crema.
“We have a huge variety of folks — from Indian restaurants to sushi restaurants to more traditional Mexican restaurants — involved in this event and it really highlights the diversity that we have downtown in Manchester,” Riel, the official director of the Taco Tour, says. “Manchester is an incredibly diverse city in what’s often thought of as not a super diverse area of the country, so to be able to showcase that and get folks thinking about different ways to sample their food, the taco is a terrific way to do that.”
Taco Tour Manchester first got its start in 2011 under the name “Hippo de Mayo Taco Challenge,” started by alt-weekly Manchester newspaper The Hippo. Riel, who grew up in nearby Goffstown, says the event began as a business promotion offering a smaller spread of local tacos before quickly expanding. In 2018, the city agreed to shut down Elm Street to vehicular traffic to accommodate the vast crowds filling the streets, something it’s done every Taco Tour since. Last year, Riel says the Tour brought in between 20,000 and 25,000 attendees. He expects much of the same in 2023.
In addition to munching on tacos, Riel and the Chamber have a number of additional activities in store. A “Grand Marshall” kicks off the day by eating the Tour’s inaugural taco; last year’s guest of honor was Joseph Calcavecchia, known for his popular Instagram and TikTok accounts @theroaming_foodie (this year’s Grand Marshall has yet to be announced). New for 2023 is the Hood Sour Cream Concert, with six musical acts playing on two downtown stages. Jeffrey Gaines, Frank Viele and Best Not Broken will play on the 92.5 The River Stage in Veteran’s Park, and Colleen Green, Donaher and Supernothing will play on the M&T Bank Bandstand Stage located on Elm Street. Additionally, all attendees are encouraged to vote for their favorite taco on tacotourmanchester.com. The winning restaurant receives $1,000 to donate to a charity of their choice and the much-sought-after “Golden Taco” trophy. “How do we make Manchester a destination for culture, experience and, most importantly of all, food?” Riel says. “I think any community needs to find what’s unique to it. When we think about Manchester, we need to have things that make it a unique destination, and Taco Tour is definitely one of those things.”
As a seasoned (pun-intended) Taco Tour veteran, Riel recommends a few tips to make the most of the event. Most importantly, proper preparation. “Map,” he says. “The map (available on the event’s official website) will drop the week before the event, and that’s really when you have to sit down with your friends, family, whoever’s coming with you to the event, and circle your top destinations. There’ll be a lot of options but you need to figure out where your top priorities are.” He compares the Tour to Disney World, with its bustling crowds and dizzying sensory overload. “You can’t just walk into the Magic Kingdom and expect to waltz onto all the rides,” Riel says. “That’s very similar to Taco Tour.” Additionally, he advises attendees arrive early and make a whole day of it. “I think it’s a great opportunity to come downtown at 2 or 3 p.m., get a cold Dos Equis at a bar down here and wait for restaurants to be set up,” he says. “And then once they are, go crazy.”
All in all, Riel hopes the Taco Tour provides Manchester residents and tourists alike the chance to recognize and celebrate the city’s culture. “There’s so much in Manchester to be proud of that other places don’t have,” Riel says. “We feel like this is an amazing city, and every opportunity we have to showcase that to other folks, we really need to take advantage of.”
Taco Tour Manchester takes place on Thursday, May 4, from 4 to 8 p.m. in downtown Manchester. Visit the event’s official website for more information.