Taco: The trophy for best tacos. Courtesy photo

Santa Monica’s first Taco Wars are coming on Saturday and it will feature some of the best taco chefs from the Southwestern United States and even Mexico.

The whole idea of a Taco Wars is to find the best taqueros around and put them all together in one space for an epic showdown. The annual event will rotate taco styles with carnitas taking center stage this weekend.

It is a winner take all competition and the last taqueros standing could win the coveted Golden Piggy trophy.

Six competitors have been confirmed so far including Los Gabrieles, Carnitas El Momo, Carnitas El Rey, Carnitas El Artista, Carnitas Don Claudio and Carnitas Los Panchos.

Taqueros will be judged by a star-studded panel that takes street food very seriously including authors, chefs and food experts.

Taco Wars is being put on by Jorge Reynaga aka “Mexi-papa” and Jeffery Merrihue. Merrihue was a marketing and sales executive for 35 years for companies like Kellogg’s and Nabisco. He currently owns and operates Heroic Italian in town.

“What’s nice about this festival is that all of the businesses that will be there are small, Mexican families,” Merrihue said. “And all the additional vendors that will be there selling Mexican drinks, T-shirts and everything else, are all small Mexican families. This is not a corporate venture at all, it’s really assisting the Mexican community.”

Reynaga has a large social media presence and has worked in the food industry for the last 20 years. He worked as a food photographer, which pushed him towards creating online content. Four years ago, Reynaga noticed a lack of excitement and exposure with Mexican street food, so he decided to jump in and be a little more creative and interactive by showing food and conducting interviews and posting them to his social media pages, @mexi_papa_adventures.

The two men met years ago at a taco stand and have been taco partners in crime ever since.

“The first time we ever spoke we were there for a couple hours,” Reynaga said. “From there it was like you know, we both had the same passion for food. It was game over. We go everywhere together.”

Organizers discussed holding Taco Wars in Long Beach or Whitter, but Santa Monica worked with them to turn Taco Wars into a reality.

“I think that Santa Monica needs more things like this,” Merrihue said. “I didn’t engineer it here because I was kind of skeptical,” he said.

Instead of opposition, he said he found a welcoming environment. Merrihue and Reynaga credited downtown Santa Monica’s CEO Kathleen Rawson and city council member Phil Brock for allowing the event to take place in town.

“We’re always pleased when we can help a local business owner, and pave the way for a fun, unique experience in Downtown Santa Monica,” Rawson said. “Highlighting cuisine from Latin America is also a great way to provide our residents and visitors with a way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Outside of the competition, Taco Wars will feature other food stands and trucks featuring other types of tacos, hotdogs, micheladas, churros, Mexican candies, shirts, hats and all kinds of music and dancing thrown in for good measure.

It takes place at 1301 4th street from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and tickets are available on Mexipapa.net for $25 each. Each taco costs $2.50 once you are in the event.

“Downtown Santa Monica is going to be smelling like carnitas on Oct. 9,” Reynaga said.

daniel@smdp.com