Food & Culture

After Racial Burrito Controversy, ‘Offensive’ Portland Taco Festival Canceled

Last weekend's Portland Taco Festival was battered with a number of criticisms.

By Michael Rietmulder August 29, 2017


Tortilla-wrapped street food is having a really hard time in Portland right now.

You may recall the collective freakout this spring when a couple of white ladies opened a very short-lived burrito cart. A fairly positive profile in Willamette Week, which described their French fry-stuffed burritos as a “’grammable burrainbow,” sparked a fierce debate over cultural appropriation after the women referenced learning how to handmake tortillas somewhat surreptitiously during a Mexico vacation. Three days after the article was published, Kooks Burritos announced it was closing up shop for good.

Last weekend a similar racially charged kerfuffle contributed to the cancelation of the Portland Taco Festival. The two-day taco party, organized by Denver companies Connected Soul and Another Brother Productions, apparently got off to a rocky start Saturday, as would-be eaters complained of two-hour lines and vendors running out of tacos.

“I wish I was full of tacos, instead of emotions,” a bummed-out Tacoma man told Portland’s KATU 2 while leaving the fest.

(Get that guy to this new Wallingford joint, stat.)

But as Eater Portland noted, even the day before the fest began Latino digital media company Mitú ripped the festival’s “offensive ads,” Chihuahua beauty pageant and its pitch of “margaritas so good they’ll ‘remove your sombreros.’”

“The Portland Taco Festival ads plastered with hipsters posing behind hard shell taco cutouts and white boys donning Lucha Libre masks are just another example of the Pacific Northwest’s tone-deaf, casual racism,” wrote Mitú’s Emilly Prado.

By Sunday morning organizers decided to cancel the last day of the fest, which they claim drew 3,000 people on day one. While they owned up to much of the chaos, conceding poor signage contributed to the long lines, they refuted claims that vendors ran out of food and took issue with the accusations of cultural appropriation.

“This is something dear to me as it is my culture that is in question,” wrote co-founder Timothy Arguello, who is of Mexican descent. “Just as all other Mexican-Americans I grew up enjoying this great food and culture with my family and really love the fact that it is shared by so many. TacoFest is our collective dream that we’ve made into a reality. While it’s absolutely a work in progress, the purpose is to have fun and enjoy a diversity of people, food and activities. Much like Cinco De Mayo, St. Patricks day [sic] and all the other culturally centered celebrations we feel there is nothing wrong with celebrating something as universally loved as the taco together with all ethnicities as a way to bring people together.”

Mission unaccomplished.

Here in Seattle, the Ballard Burrito Fest went down just a weekend earlier without causing any racially charged aneurysms, though we’re not sure what’s up with this friendly pirate.

As Seattle mag columnist Knute Berger notes, trying to eat politically correct can be a slippery slope. But surely we can all agree that tacos rule.


Join The Must List

Sign up and get Seattle's best events delivered to your inbox every week.

Follow Us

Decolonizing dining in Seattle

Decolonizing dining in Seattle

Hillel Echo-Hawk is at the forefront of Seattle’s Indigenous food movement

In 2022, an Indigenous-owned restaurant serving a precolonial menu — Owamni, in Minneapolis — earned a James Beard Award as the best restaurant in the country. Names like Sean Sherman and Crystal Wahpepah (respectively, a Beard award finalist for best emerging chef, and the first Native American chef to compete on the Food Network’s Chopped)…

Pastry: An Affair to Remember

Pastry: An Affair to Remember

Chef Ewald Notter of Dote Coffee Bar makes it easy to fall in love with pastry and chocolate

Most romances unfold in predictable ways. An invitation for lunch, where you share sandwiches in a loud café, silently wishing your bread was crisper, but never giving up on the idea that one day it might be. An awkward laugh as your fingers touch while you both reach across the table for sugar in that…

Mix It Up. Try old-school cocktails this holiday season

Mix It Up. Try old-school cocktails this holiday season

These 10 drinks may not be on the menu at your local bar, but all pack a punch as well as some colorful history

Editor’s note: A version of this story previously appeared in “Seattle” magazine. Impress your guests this holiday season with these 10 concoctions from a vintage bar guide from Glenn Shaw Creations – supposedly from the 1950s – found in an antique shop in Olympia a few years back. Keep in mind that these drinks may…

Sip, Slurp, Celebrate at Frank's Oyster House

Sip, Slurp, Celebrate at Frank’s Oyster House

Let’s be Frank about Champagne

The best bubbles in Washington state may very well be found at an East Coast-style restaurant in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. That, at least, is the opinion of The Champagne Bureau, USA, which has named Frank’s Oyster House and Champagne Parlor as one of the top 10 bars and restaurants in the nation for the quality…