• Monday , 19 February 2018

Guac Off: Charity, Competition, and a Whole Lot of Avocado for MANNA

Photos, story by Clare Shepherd

Philly Mexican restaurants brought their best recipes to compete in June’s Guac Off, an annual fundraiser for local food charity MANNA. Only two restaurants took home awards, but all of them proved that Philly is a great city for guacamole.

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Guacamole always draws a crowd.

The pier was a beautiful setting for the event. The venue is on the small side, but the breeze off the river made up for it.

The pier was a beautiful setting for the event. The venue is on the small side, but the breeze off the river made up for it.

Whole Foods provided the chips, with posters proclaiming "Holy Guacamole These Are Good Chips." Cocky proclamations aside, the participants might have fared better if guests had better chips to go with the guac.

Whole Foods provided the chips, with posters proclaiming “Holy Guacamole These Are Good Chips.” Cocky proclamations aside, the participants might have fared better if guests had better chips to go with the guac. The chips certainly didn’t merit Whole Foods’ apparent surprise at their quality.

Square 1682's executive chef shows off her creation.

Square 1682’s executive chef shows off her creation, a good basic guacamole with mango.

Square 1682 took home the People’s Choice Award for their mixture of sweet and savory flavors. They served up a tasty guac, but they also provided their own tortilla chips which would have gone a long way for the other contestants. I tried their guac again with the corn chips provided by Whole Foods and found it more comparable to other contestants.

Revolution Taco was my personal favorite. Their recipe was the only one that included grilled corn, and that plus the addition of a small amount of white cheese made this one stand out. Judges (including Alex Holley of Fox 29 Good Day Philadelphia and Marilyn Russell of BEN FM) agreed: this recipe took home Judges Choice Award.

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Morgan’s Pier served a bar-food-appropriate salty dish.

Morgan’s Pier also competed, producing guac that was so salty it was almost inedible. Salty snacks are a great strategy for moving $3 lemonades, but between sweating in the heat and downing large amounts of tortilla chips, this was one of my least favorites. I got a sample before they added bacon, so I can only imagine how salty the final product must have been. However, Square 1682’s representative told me this was his favorite other guacamole, proving taste is a personal matter.

mms_img306285647La Calaca Feliz‘ entry had the most creative ingredients, including seeds and goat cheese. However, there may be a reason most guac recipes don’t include these ingredients, so this one was a little too bizarre to be one of the best.

Several restaurants served more “traditional” guacamole, likely what they offer on their own menus. All of these would be delicious in a restaurant setting, but at a competition they started to run together. I can attest, however, that Besito serves a guac worth visiting a restaurant.

I also highly recommend finding your way to Cafe Ynez for their pineapple habanero guac. The sweetness was less overwhelming than in some of the other guacs with fruit, and it was overall a very balanced flavor.

I don’t eat meat, so I brought along a friend to fill me in on non-vegetarian guacamole. Los Camaradas’ recipe included fried pork belly which sounded intriguing but, according to my omnivorous friend, made it more of a meat dish with avocado than a true guacamole.

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This guac was beautifully presented, and as it had tuna I had to trust the word of my friend. To quote: “I’ve never had tuna in guacamole before. Now I know why.” Still, pretty!

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There were two additional surprises from this event:

Brittany Lynn shows off her outfit.

Philly’s drag queen mafia mother Brittany Lynn shows off her outfit.

The event was hosted by drag queen Brittany Lynn, whose colorful dress and SUPERB boots provided a very welcome change from the visually muted atmosphere.

Bag with English and Spanish label, with brown paste inside.

Worm meal, so to speak.

One guac featured an optional topping of “worm salt,” which is literally ground up worm. My meat eating friend assured me that it WAS incredibly salty.

The competition was to support MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), a local organization that delivers meals to people suffering from life threatening illness. It felt a little strange to eat until I was sick to support a food charity, but I do it all the time for free so this was win-win.

All in all, fans of Mexican food would do well to try ALL of the guacs. I know I plan on revisiting these restaurants. Operation successful!

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