From the street, this seems like another quiet Tuesday on Colfax Avenue -- but there's plenty of action inside Mezcal, which is hosting its third tri-annual street taco-eating contest.
Wiry, muscular, bald-headed Andrew "A-Bomb" Lane -- winner of the last two taco-eating contests -- is again the heavy favorite, even among rotund competitors twice his size.
The restaurant is bustling as starting time approaches. One server offers free tequila samples as another sets out pitchers of water at the table where fifteen strangers will face off, gladiators of girth who'll turn famished into fully-loaded.
Donning a black-and-white striped referee shirt, one of the judges takes the microphone and belts out the names of the contestants. The rules are as follows: There will be two different rounds to the contest; the first is the qualifying round, in which all contestants have fifteen minutes to eat twenty tacos. All plates must be completely clean to move to the next round. All food must be swallowed by the end of the round in order to move on. Throwing up or dropping food onto the floor results in immediate elimination from the contest. Contestants who do not finish the entire twenty tacos at the end of first round will be eliminated from the contest. In round two, the final contestants will compete head to head in a heated, five-minute battle to consume the most tacos in their entirety. The taco only counts if it is completely swallowed. The panel of expert taco judges will count the taco total and prizes will be awarded at the end.
With the modest entry fee of $20, a contestant receives a free Cruz Margarita, and a free I heart Tacos Mezcal T-shirt. The third-place prize is a $50 gift card, second place gets a $100 gift card, and first place gets the Mezcal taco trophy and a $150 gift card.
So on your marks, get set, taco!
All fifteen contestants dive into their pulsating platters of street taco excellence. What begins as something that looks possible at the start of the contest becomes more and more daunting as the clock quickly ticks away. The two-time reigning champion, a man known affectionately as "A-Bomb," is exactly the opposite of what you'd imagine an eating contestant would look like. Skinny and fit, he muscles his way past the pain and rips through his qualifying plate fast enough to make Speedy Gonzalez blush.
This is not for the faint of heart; this is what separates the boys from the men -- or, in the case of a few contestants, what separates the girls from the women.
The table that started out looking picture-perfect, like something that you would see in a home decorating magazine, begins to look like your mother's worst nightmare. Surprisingly, the contestants do not have to wear eye protection, even though pig slop is flying all over the place. In the final ten seconds, the contestants try and hork down anything still remaining on their plates.
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After weeding out all of the riff-raff from the contest, the final table holds the six remaining contestants: including A-Bomb, who just looked hungry for more. The losers limp away from the table looking for a warm, quiet place to drop into a food coma. The judges set back the clock to five minutes and the contestants use any remaining energy in their jaws to masticate their way to the top.
And for the third straight time, the rest of the contestants spend the last minute staring in disbelief as A-Bomb still digs away. A mere 27 tacos later, A-Bomb raises the coveted Mezcal taco trophy above his backwards hat.
Once again, the winner has made his psychological mark -- a crater big enough to have only come from an A-Bomb.