Raleigh, N.C. — For me, the phrase “eating contest” brings to mind images of Kobayashi cramming hot dogs into his mouth on Coney Island on the Fourth of July. Then, I found The Original Flying Burrito and their new challenge, one that’s less “contest” and more “accomplishment.”
It's called the 30/30/30 Challenge. A team of up to four people signs on to eat 30 tacos and sample 30 tequilas within 30 days. Complete the challenge and you receive a $100 gift certificate for the team, a T-shirt for each member of the team, and your picture on the wall of champions. Along the way, the staff does ask that you rate each taco and tequila, but if you choose not to, that's not a deal breaker. We enlisted two other friends, and decided to give it a shot (pun totally intended).
We called ourselves “The Whovians” – a team of four Doctor Who fans. The team consisted of me (the news producer), my boyfriend (an engineer), my good friend (a physics PhD student at NC State) and her boyfriend (an engineering PhD student at Duke). With that kind of combined brain power, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that we took a methodical approach to it all that would allow us to study the tastes of each taco and tequila.
We’re all foodies, to a degree, so we quickly agreed on a common, if unconventional, rating system to provide our own unique context to the scale of 1 to 5. For the Tacos, a 1 meant “We left it on the plate.” A 3 rating meant ‘Solid offering, which means we would order it again,” and a 5 meant “Can’t wait till next time!”
We got more creative with the tequila scale. A rating of a 1 meant it was so unpalatable alone, you needed to “ask for margarita mix.” A tequila that scored a 3 was deemed “eminently drinkable and we would order it again without qualms if it’s available.” And a 5? That was reserved for those rare drinks that would make us say “DAY-UM! We need to buy a bottle for home!” (Yes, that was the actual spelling – check the pictures.) On both sides of the menu, we also jotted down phrases to make each item stand out. We hope it makes for good reading as others see us posted on the Wall of Success.
Then we established the approach. Tacos were ordered four at a time – one per person –shared, then rated immediately before starting the next one. Tequila shots were ordered in sets of two or three – grouped by distillery, one of each age/quality level for comparison purposes – with salt on only half the rim. They were also shared and rated.
This is the point where I have to stop and rave a second. Flying Burrito has been one of my favorite Mexican restaurants since it was in Chapel Hill. The ingredients are fresh, the chefs are creative, and the menu is always being tweaked to make it better. You can’t go wrong with the namesake dish – the flying burritos – or anything else on the menu, for that matter. Topping it off, they serve brunch all day long on Sundays. A draw, for sure, but for now, let’s get back to the tacos.
The list of 30 tacos at Flying Burrito ranges from the standards (chicken, beef, pork, veggie) to the not-so standard (BLT, oyster, salmon). I highly recommend checking out the not-so-standard end of the menu! Some of our highest rated tacos included:
- The Outer Banks – the crispy fish, habañero mayo, and slaw combination works marvelously
- The Carolina – the idea of pulled pork with Carolina BBQ sauce and yucatan slaw in a tortilla took me by surprise, but once you shake off your food expectations, it’s delicious
- The 5-Alarm Steak – Warning, when they say their salsa is Five-alarms-worth-of-hot, please believe them! Luckily, two of us liked uber-spice, so it got a fair shake and earned a 5
Only 2 tacos received the dreaded “left it on the plate” rating: The Chicken and Steak fajita taco because the grease factor was high enough it got other tacos soggy on the plate, and the Pueblo because the combination of flavors (crispy chicken, pineapple mango, and jalapeno ranch) sounded amazing, but didn’t meet expectations.
Then, there were the tequilas. The first thing we noticed about the tequila list was what wasn’t there – cheaper brands that had made both my boyfriend and myself avoid tequila for so long. That’s when we started to get intrigued. Could there be such a thing as “good tequila?” The answer is yes, there absolutely is. In general, our organized approach taught us that we like tequilas that were aged longer (blancos are younger than reposados, which are younger than anejos) and that salt could actually ruin the taste for us.
I’m happy to say that only one tequila earned the “ask for margarita mix” rating. Patron, for all its hype and ad budget, disappointed us and earned a 3. We ordered well to start with though – as luck would have it, the first family of tequilas we ordered – Lunazul’s Blacno, Reposado and Anejo - turned out to be our favorites. We even went back and revisited them at the end to make sure we wanted to score them so high.
Two earned the coveted “DAY-UM”of a 5 rating. One was the Lunazul Anejo, which was so smooth it earned the comment “Are you a whiskey made of cactus?” That’s high praise indeed from four people who prefer Scotch to vodka or rum. The other 5 was the Galera Vieja Anejo – a sipping tequila so good it threatened to derail our progress since my boyfriend ordered it multiple times, and after something so smooth, we knew we wouldn’t give the other brands a fighting chance.
The entire process took us 26 of the 30 days – we didn’t want to overdo it on any one flavor profile – and I’m very glad we took the time to learn everything we could about the food and drink before us. We have all recommended it to friends, and I give it a “thumbs up” here, too. You can definitely go it alone and finish the challenge, like one or two of the other successful contestants. It’s a grand excuse to sit down with some friends on a regular basis for good food, good drinks, and good times.