Whatever your strategy for grazing your way around the Taste of Tacoma, here’s one tip to add to your arsenal: Look before you buy.
Taste of Tacoma is a visual feast with hundreds of people parading plates of every cuisine imaginable. You can predict what is worth buying from watching diners wander by with plates of food, or from listening to their suggestions. Last year, passers-by told me a restaurant was serving $2 egg rolls, while a nearby booth offered eight for $5.
My strategy was to cruise the restaurant booths first and look at the offerings before committing. Pay attention, watch the plates of food, and ignore your mother’s advice and do talk to strangers.
Click "more" for other tips and tricks for working your way through the festival.
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Bargain bites: The festival will offer bargain-priced “Just A Bite” tastes for $3.75 at each booth. Purchasing these can keep your costs down if you’re on a budget. They’re also smaller portions in many cases.
Truth in advertising: By my count at last year’s Taste, at least six booths weren’t advertising the “Just A Bite” bargain tastes, which were designated with yellow stickers on the menu. I learned diners have to ask for them if you don’t see cheap tastes advertised. Most vendors were forthcoming in offering the cheap tastes when asked, but at least one of last year’s vendors told me they weren’t offering one. The festival literature this year shows every booth will have a $3.75 taste. If you don’t see it listed, ask.
Discount meal tickets: Purchase $20 worth of food tickets for $17 at the Taste It Discount Meal Ticket booth at the entrance. The offer is good while supplies last, so buy early.
Coupons and deals: The 94.1 KMPS booth will offer Funtastic Carnival ride discount coupons of six rides for $13. Redeem the coupons at the Funtastic Carnival ticket window.
Right bite: From fresh strawberries to grilled salmon and tofu spring rolls, diners with health restrictions should look for the Hope Heart Right Bite symbol on every restaurant’s menu. Menu items are lighter on sodium, fat or calories, or all of the above.
Cost of food: In addition to the bargain tastes for $3.75, combo plates are $7 or lower. No single item will be priced more than $7.
Bring cash: BECU will offer free on-site ATM transactions, but I remember seeing long lines at the cash machines last year. Bring your own cash stash.
Insider tip: Watch for free samples. Last year, at least one restaurant was roaming around with trays of tastes. Keep alert, bargain seekers.
Local restaurants? You might wonder where local restaurants are. As with most recent Tastes, very few Tacoma restaurants participate. Most are traveling vendors who serve food at these kinds of food festivals. However, Southern Kitchen, a Tacoma institution, and Samurai’s Japanese Steakhouse in Spanaway will serve at the festival.
Bring water: You’ll need it. The festival sells water, of course, but if the day is warm and salt content high, you’ll be thirsty enough to drink $20 worth of water.
Wet wipes and hand sanitizer: Bring ’em. Be safe, be clean. Didn’t your mother always tell you that?
Sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella: You never know what the weather will bring. Be prepared for a true Northwest experience.
Bring a blanket: Some picnic tables are available, but there are many more festival attendees than seats. If the day is dry and warm, there’s lawn area for an impromptu picnic.
READ MORE: Here is a list of who is cooking what.
Taste of Tacoma
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. today and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Point Defiance Park, Tacoma
Parking: $10 in the Funland lot across from the park
Taste Shuttle: The Taste of Tacoma will offer express service every 15 minutes between the Tacoma Community College Transit Center and Point Defiance Park. Fare is $4 roundtrip, although kids younger than 13 ride for free. The shuttle leaves from the northwest corner of the campus at South 12th and South Mildred streets. (Note: Pierce Transit is not offering the shuttle service as I earlier reported, Taste of Tacoma has contracted with a vendor for that service)
Information: www.tasteoftacoma.com or 425-283-5050
Pets: None allowed in the food court. Festival organizers ask that pets stay at home.
No smoking allowed: Tacoma parks are smoke free. Smoking prohibited within all areas of Tacoma public parks.