For three days, Point Defiance Park becomes the area’s biggest outdoor pop-up food court.
Alternately, I like to call it The Big Ol’ Weekend For Gluttony.
If you’ve never been to the Taste of Tacoma, which begins Friday, let me help you understand it. It’s the kind of event where you show off your stretchiest pants with the most forgiving waistband. It’s also the place to throw a Frisbee, bring a blanket and set up an impromptu picnic, catch a band, shop for necklaces or drink a glass of wine.
It’s also the best event to absolutely blow your diet. The menu features all kinds of food full of instant regret (see: doughnut burger).
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More than 30 food tents and mobile restaurants will set up in the grassy area of the park with menus featuring everything from deep-fried fare to gyros, piroshki, Hawaiian noodles, sushi burritos and Cuban steak sandwiches.
New this year is an event with a charitable aim. South Sound Bites will raise money for the Emergency Food Network and also feed you well with small bites from some of the area’s best chefs.
As always, there will be cooking demonstrations from Tacoma-area chefs, a beer garden and a carnival.
Oh, and do note this significant change: There will not be any on-site parking this year and drop-offs will be diverted away from the park. That means you need to take the event’s free shuttle, which also has free parking. Details are below.
South Sound Bites
Five restaurants each day will serve small tastes in a cafeteria-style setting as part of South Sound Bites. Find it at the end of Restaurant Row.
Admission is $16, with a portion of proceeds going to the Emergency Food Network. Admission buys tastes from each of that day’s five participating restaurants, which will include Social Bar and Grill, Paesan Kitchen and Bar, Miyabi Sushi, The Table, newly opened Casco Antiguo and Stanley and Seafort’s.
The South Sound Bites area will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day of the festival.
Here’s a look at what’s cooking each day:
Friday: The Table will serve corned pork butt with poblano cream and corn salsa. Stanley and Seafort’s will serve Hawaiian-style poke. Miyabi Sushi will serve California rolls served in a hand roll nori wrapper. Blazing Onion will serve beef sliders with habanero. La Waffletz and Macaron Station will serve a chocolate-dipped Belgian waffle.
Saturday: The Table and Stanley and Seafort’s will serve the same items. Blazing Onion will switch up their offering with a surf-’n-turf slider built with a Painted Hills mini patty and marinated shrimp on mini brioche. Casco Antiguo willl serve an unusual dish: an epazote and poblano tortilla inflated and then stuffed with lamb barbacoa. Paesan Kitchen and Bar will serve spinach artichoke linguini with rosemary chicken.
Sunday: The Table will return with corned pork butt. Miyabi will return with its salmon hand rolls. Blazing Onion will serve its habanero slider again. Social Bar and Grill will serve Polynesian-style ahi tuna. The Tattered Apron Bakery will serve lemon bars with a shortbread crust and fresh lemon curd.
More than 30 restaurants will serve along Restaurant Row.
Check out the locals: Puyallup’s Wicked Pie Pizza will serve pizza by the slice. Tacoma’s It’s Greek To Me will appear with its food truck and will serve gyros and falafel. Parkland-based food truck South Beach Espresso and Cuisine will serve its famous Cuban steak sandwich. Stacks Burgers, which roams all over Pierce County in its food truck, will serve its burger menu.
New restaurants to the show: The Roll Pod will serve kathi rolls and rice bowls. Big Island Poke will serve poke bowls. The Mac and Cheese Whaaaaaaaat food truck will serve several versions of its mac and cheese.
Returning restaurants: Kaleenka Piroshky will be there with its fried buns filled with meat, sweets or veggies. Crepe Tyme will also serve its lineup of made-to-order crepes. New Orleans Cookery will once again serve its alligator-on-a-stick. There also will be bratwurst at the Ziegler’s booth, Philly cheese sandwiches from Pat’s and everyone’s favorite food dare, the Krispy Kreme doughnut bacon cheeseburger at Deano’s Grill. Also find Thai, Hawaiian, Greek, American barbecue, seafood and lots of desserts.
Cost of food: No item will be priced over $10.
Cooking in action
Cook-offs: All three days, chefs will compete in Iron Chef-style cooking smackdowns. The cook-offs take place from 1-2 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2-3 p.m. Sunday and 4-5 p.m. all three days. Competing chefs include Tacoma’s Derek Bray of The Table, Hudson Slater of the Tacoma Yacht Club, Ta'ani Ma'ame of Boathouse 19, The Valley’s James Bacher and Tacoma’s Kitchen Beautician, Aura Mae.
Cooking demonstrations: From noon-7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon-6 p.m. on Sunday, local chefs will appear on the demonstration stage. Learn cooking techniques from chefs representing The Table, Rhein Haus Tacoma, Indo Asian Street Eatery, The Valley, Lobster Shop and Happy Belly.
What else to see and do
Craft beverages: Find craft brews in the beer gardens, along with cocktails made by Gig Harbor’s Heritage Distilling Co. A craft-beer tasting will take place in the Rose Garden. A $20 tasting package includes a commemorative glass and five tastes from Narrows Brewing, Gig Harbor Brewing Co., Fish Brewing, Northwest Brewing Co. and Odd Otter Brewing. Also, wine tasting in the Rose Garden with wine-by-the-glass and flights.
Entertainment: Four stages with 100 performers (including former Voice and American Idol contestants). The Pond Stage will feature R&B, funk, disco, dance and reggae. The Bowl Stage will feature classic rock, blues and country. The Rose Garden Stage will host jazz, blues and singers-songwriters. The Family Fun Stage will have kid-friendly performers, dance groups and a visit from the Reptile Man.
Also happening: A carnival with rides and games, arts-and-crafts vendors, commercial booths.
Banned: Smoking is banned from the entire park; a no-dog rule will be enforced in the food court area (but dogs allowed elsewhere in the park).
Parking: None, due to park construction. So don’t show up thinking you’ll be able to park on site as you have in years past. There’s also no direct access for drop off. All traffic will be diverted off Pearl Street starting at 51st Avenue.
Shuttle: It’s free. The Taste Shuttle operated by Pierce Transit will depart every 15-30 minutes from Tacoma Community College. The shuttle runs 10:30 a.m to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Parking at TCC will be free. Buses are ADA compliant.
Cyclists: Bike corral near the main entrance.
Emerald Queen Casino’s Taste of Tacoma
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Point Defiance Park, Tacoma
Admission: Free, except cost of food.
Information: tasteoftacoma.com or 425-295-3262.