This is my 46th year of gobbling everything edible Fiesta has to offer, and the memories come flooding back like an avalanche of salsa. But if I had to narrow them down to 10, this is what my taste buds remember best:
1. Evening enchiladas under garden umbrellas at the old La Paloma (now the Paradise) on Anacapa Street, as mariachis sang sad laments of love.
2. El Paseo restaurant jammed to the rafters after the parade. You dipped into the buffet, dodging the heels of women dancing on the tables.
3. Juicy goat tacos in De la Guerra Plaza in 2004 at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce booth.
4. The Castro Family Party at Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets, where Flora Rose Cota Castro worked the kitchen for 26 years. Her mother-in-law, Belen Castro, began the tradition. The family also had a float entry put together just days before the parade, as officials fretted.
5. The late Sam D’Andrea’s chorizo. While his Boy Scout volunteers worked at the regular Downtown Kiwanis Club’s Saturday Fiesta Pancake Breakfast, Sam cooked up his famed chorizo on the side, where those in the know stopped by.
6. Back when it was the Mayor’s Party (now Celebración de los Dignatarios), I recall strolling the grassy knoll at the zoo, munching and relishing the view over the Santa Barbara Channel.
7. Nothing seemed more authentic than chowing down in what was then the cheapest Mexican eatery downtown, the Casablanca. There were always mariachis playing. Alas, the Casablanca is history.
8. Before new bars and restaurants opened downtown, the Acapulco in La Arcada Court was swamped with merrymakers. Tipsy girls waded in the fountain.
9. A meal in a roll: Tortas in De la Guerra Plaza, followed by a long, sweet churro.
10. German sausages in Mercado del Norte. True, un-Fiesta-ish, but wonderfully good. But the bratwurst and Polish sausages have not been seen there in recent years.