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Rigoberto Ruiz’s winning taco: the Jicama Shrimp Taco.

Joining other local foodies from the Gazettes, OC Weekly, the Press-Telegram, and the Long Beach Register, I had the pleasure of judging and partaking in Alegria’s first Great American Taco Challenge.

Eight contestants from all over the Southland—Long Beach, Los Angeles, West Covina, and Los Alamitos—offered eight distinct takes on the Mexican classic that varied from traditional to outright innovative. We were asked to judge each dish on three areas: Flavor, Creativity, and Presentation.

The winner of the competition was Rigoberto Ruiz by way of West Covina, whose Jicama Shrimp Taco won all of our hearts with the highest combined score. The “taco shell”—large, thinly sliced pieces of mango and jicama which made it impossible to pick up—sat underneath a pile of perfectly cooked cold shrimp, avocado, mango, onion, a drizzle of a chile aioli and a liberal dash of chile powder.

Though Ruiz’s plate was far and away the most aestheticly pleasing of the bunch, taking the high score for Presentation with its beautiful array of pinks, yellows, greens, and whites, my personal tastes lean toward the traditional. Shandry Gomez of Bixby Knolls took my mouth to taco heaven with her Beer Braised Beef Taco. These not-so-little folded treasures had a yellow corn tortilla—slightly burnt on its sides and therefore perfect—underneath a heap of perfectly braised beef and pickled onion. Voila. Uncomplicated, forthright, and absolutely delicious.

Other highlights included Amy Loe of Los Al’s Red Snapper Ceviche Taco, which had a beautifully fried shell—the crunch alone made every single eater giggle—filled with limey, cold red snapper. Ceviche in hard taco form: brilliant and refreshing.

Alegria will continue to host the event annually, which offers the winner $300 as well as a special place on the restaurant’s Cinco de Mayo menu. For those interested in Ruiz’s jicama creation, visit Alegria on May 5 to enjoy the inaugural winner of the Great American Taco Challenge.

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