Food & Drink

Atascadero’s Tamale Festival is back for 3rd year — and it’s ready for a big crowd

Atascadero's second annual Tamale Festival

Atascadero's second annual Tamale Festival was held at Sunken Gardens on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.
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Atascadero's second annual Tamale Festival was held at Sunken Gardens on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

Hungry? The Tamale Festival is returning to downtown Atascadero in January.

More than 25 vendors will dish out their versions of the traditional Mexican treat Jan. 20, 2018, at the Sunken Gardens, said Terrie Banish, Atascadero deputy city manager. She attended the Indio International Tamale Festival in early December in search of new vendors.

About 5,000 people are expected to attend the festival, now its third year.

The Tamale Festival got off to a rocky start in 2016 when most of the vendors supplying tamales ran out about an hour into the four-hour festival due to an unexpectedly large crowd. Organizers had expected as many as 2,000 attendees; they got roughly 7,000 instead.

“First-time events rarely have that kind of pull,” Banish explained. “It was crazy. It was a nightmare.”

In 2018, she promised, there’s no danger of a tamale shortage.

Santa Maria band Mariachi Mexicanisimo performs in front of the City Administration Building in downtown Atascadero as part of the Tamale Festival in 2017. The band will play at the third annual Tamale Festival at the Sunken Gardens in January 201

In addition to thousands of tasty tamales for sale, the festival features a tamale contest with prizes awarded in three different categories — gourmet, traditional and sweet. In 2017, Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in Atascadero and Iglesia La Luz del Mundo in Santa Ana took home the top prizes.

Also featured is a new tamale-eating competition. Participants broken into two age groups — 11 and under, and 12 and up — will have two minutes to devour as many tamales as possible; there’s a $5 entry fee for older contestants.

Other highlights include bounce houses, balloon animals, face painting, dance by Grupo Folklorico Nueva Esperanza and music by singer Manuel Enrique, Mariachi Mexicanisimo and Los Gatos Locos.

Admission to the 2018 Tamale Festival, which runs 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., is free. (Tamales cost $3 apiece, and there are additional food and drink options.) For more information, call 805-470-3360 or visit

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