The Whole Enchilada Fiesta – Las Cruces, NM

This weekend I attended the annual Whole Enchilada Fiesta for the first time, and all I can say is WOW!

The WEF is like a typical state fair, but with some interesting and unique twists.  What makes the festival famous is every year they cook a giant enchilada which is then cut up and eaten by everyone attending.  In fact, in 2000 the enchilada was named the largest in the whole world by the Guinness Book of World Records!  Sadly, this year the giant grill broke before the festival and they weren’t able to replace it in time, but they featured an enchilada eating contest and a cook-off as well as substitutes.

I wanted to go to the WEF last year, but being the low man on the totem pole at work, I was stuck indoors the entire time.  This year I still had to work in the morning, but I got to go for a few hours on Saturday night.  I did take some photos, which are generally horrendous because my camera doesn’t like low light/nighttime, but I’ll post the “best” ones anyway.

The first thing that stuck me about the WEF was the nightmare-ish parking.  I’ve haven’t seen that many cars just circling forever like vultures since the time a few of my friends coerced me into meeting them at a Renaissance Festival in Nashville.  After about half an hour I finally got lucky and dashed into a space.

The festival itself is a really weird mixture of the normal and the highly unusual.  There were the typical festival fare – cheap rides, kettle corn, games, live music, etc.  And then there was New Mexico’s take on a festival – turkey legs, a vendor selling rims for your car, another vendor fixing computers on site, traditional Mexican costumes, churros, gorditas, and, of course, enchiladas.

The biggest, and apparently most famous, enchiladas of the festival was Robertos.  Their tent was massive and mostly transparent, so  you could see the dozens of people inside assembling enchiladas and other fare.  I ordered the green enchilada plate rather than the red because the red are typically spicier and don’t have quite the flavor as the green.  I must say, I was incredibly surprised when I opened my container.  The enchilada was open-faced, rather than rolled, and , quite frankly, it looked like a large pile of grey goop.  When I started eating it though, I quickly realized that though it may look a mess, the flavor was intense.  The tortillas were stacked, so there were several layers of food.  When I took a bite, I realized I should have taken a much smaller one.  The level of spice was crazy!!!  I thought I had gotten used to the heat of the chilis after living in the Southwest for a year, but these were Hatch chilis, which are one of the hottest in the world.  I went through a couple bottles of water just trying to avoid becoming a fire-breather.

After the enchilada, I tried the Mexican version of an apple turnover, which didn’t have many apples, but was warm, flaky and absolutely covered in sugar.  I should feel guilty for eating all that sugary goodness, but a wise friend of mine in undergrad always said that calories don’t count on birthdays or holidays, so I decided to count the WEF as a mini-holiday 🙂

Aside from gorging myself on the food, I spent the majority of my time listening to the live music.  There were three stages, but I avoided the one with karaoke and instead alternated between the other two – one of which featured a cover band and the other rotated between local and tejano acts.  The cover band was different because they played everything from Kenny Chesney to Leonard Skynard to “It’s Trciky” by Run-DMC.   An odd conglomeration for sure, but a lot of fun.

The main stage cost $5 to enter so a lot of people sat right outside the fence with their lawn chairs.  I, however, paid the fee because it was my first time and I wanted to get the whole experience.  I heard the second half of Sunny and the Sunliners’ set (a chicano group), then local boy, turned country music singer Josh Grider sang a couple of songs, and finally the main attraction for Saturday night was Little Joe & La Familia.  Although everyone in the audience were really excited to see Little Joe & La Familia, it just wasn’t my personal cup of tea – too much of a combo or chicano, big band and polka.

I’m UBER bummed I had to work Sunday night because I had to miss Kingz One, which features former members of the Kumbia Kings, which was created by Selena’s brother and, for a time, featured her widower, Chris Perez!  As a huge Selena fan, I was really upset I couldn’t see them preform, but sadly, work comes first.  Maybe I’ll have another opportunity in the future…

Overall, I had a fantastic time!  I enjoyed wonderful food, listened to and sang along with great music and got an autographed CD.  If anyone reading this is ever in the area during fiesta time in the future, I highly recommend taking a few hours out of you day and taking a trip to try the enchiladas.

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