You might’ve seen them streaming by in South Philly. Or Rittenhouse. Or West Philly. Or Fishtown. More than 80 bicyclists riding together aren’t easy to miss, especially when several are wearing fluorescent orange tank tops. And you might’ve asked, as many curious spectators did, “What are you riding for?”
The answer: Tacos.
Four hundred and eighty-one tacos, to be exact, at eight different taquerias throughout the city, over the course of six hours.
Saturday was the fifth annual Tour de Taco bike ride, officially known as TDT V: The Life of Taco. (Those orange tank tops were take-offs on Kanye’s most recent album cover.) According to organizer Brandon Gussoni, it was the most successful ride yet.
People came from all over to participate. There were folks from South Jersey and Ambler, but also from Kentucky, New Orleans and even Brighton, England (the Brit was planning to visit friends in Philly and decided this was as good an excuse as any).
The reason they came was simple: To take advantage of this city’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to fantastic tacos. And to have fun. Nothing else — although with the presidential election two months away, a little bit of politics managed to work itself into the day.
“Our little bike tour could become a leisurely stroll,” commented one tacoteer when posting a link about Latinos for Trump co-founder Marco Gutierrez’s “taco trucks on every corner” warning on the TDT V Facebook page.
There was also some discussion during the event about why the ridership ended up being predominantly white. Was it because it was a “hipster” thing? “Hey, I might be hipster, and I’m Indian,” said Ghouse K’deen.
“No taco left behind!” shouted Gussoni whenever there were excess eats left at a given stop on the tour.
There shouldn’t have been leftovers, because the whole event was extremely organized. Gussoni is a project manager in his day job, so it came naturally, but was still a bit of work.
It helped that the event was invite-only — an unexpected media blitz last year threatened to derail the whole thing. What started in 2012 as a brainstorm between Gussoni and friend Justin Tucker over drinks at Bob & Barbara’s had turned into a mini-phenomenon, and when Philly food blogs picked it up in the fourth year, the RSVP list swelled to nearly 200 before organizers cut it off. This year, with a private event page, things were calmer.
Three weeks before the ride, Gussoni posted the route, plotted out on Google Maps. It listed eight taco stops — narrowing them down was one of the hardest parts of the whole project, he said — and one breather in the middle, a jaunt to West Philly to Lil’ Pop Shop. (Because it’s not easy to eat tacos nonstop all day long. Truth.)
Two weeks before the ride, he posted an order form, listing every taco option from every taqueria. In order to participate, each person had to get that form back, along with payment and optional tip (via PayPal or Venmo), or they were out of luck.
Gussoni knew from experience it wasn’t going to be smooth if 80-plus people just showed up and demanded tacos. So he worked with each place in advance, asking management if they’d like to participate and smoothing out logistics. For the restaurants, it was kind of like a catering order that they only had to deliver a few feet outside their door.
In order of the ride, the TDT V restaurants were:
South Philly Barbacoa (which Bon Appetit just named one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, and which TDT riders were talking about for co-owner Ben Miller’s “Right to Work” campaign as much as for its great food)
Prima Pizza (yes, it used to be a pizzeria but now very much a taqueria, and a favorite of night owls since it’s open ‘til at least 4 a.m.)
El Jarocho (Gussoni added this one because he kept seeing tons of bike cops outside and figured, “They go all over the city, so if they’re here, this has got to be good.”)
Revolution Taco (taking the motley tour through Rittenhouse was an experience Gussoni was excited about, plus this shop from the Street Food Philly/Taco Mondo crew was a popular fave)
Buena Onda (the Jose Garces spot on Callowhill was in the perfect location to bridge the gap from West Philly’s popsicle break on the way to Fishtown)
Taco Riendo (one of Philly’s OG taquerias, an offshoot of Las Casuelas that was the only retail establishment on the block until Helm opened next door)
Heffe (the most unorthodox tacos of the day — like the “Kraken” with octopus — were at this stand from chef Peter McAndrews)
Loco Pez (the final stop, where nothing was pre-ordered but instead participants sat down and celebrated — serious pro tip: you can order any taco here with a “crunchy” shell, and you should)
Highlights of the day were many, including an observant fellow in West Philly who, on noticing only a third or so of the riders had protective headgear, yelled out, “What are you, a helmet protest?”
Then there was the four-foot taco flag, which rider Scott Fitch ordered on eBay and then proudly affixed to the back of his bike. It elicited many stares, and many confused spectators saying “Tacos?”
The best part was there were no injuries or incidents (aside from one tire getting caught in a trolley track for a brief spill). It’s a good bet that TDT VI will be back with a vengeance.