18th Tucson Tamal & Heritage Fest returns to Casino del Sol

The Tucson Tamal and Heritage Festival returns to Casino del Sol for the 18th year. 

It will take place in the AVA Amphitheater, 5655 W. Valencia Rd., on Saturday, Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The original idea came from a brainstorming session on how to bring more people to the property for events and community, said Casino del Sol’s director of marketing Jessica Savare.

“We were talking about what we do during the holidays and something we do here is we make tamales. It’s something we do with our families,” Savare said. “That’s something that people are starting to prepare to do.”

The highlight of the festival is the tamal contest. There will be four categories that will be judged by over 50 judges – traditional tamales, corn tamales, gourmet tamales and sweet tamales. 

The winner of the best tamal will receive $750 in cash while the places for first, second and third will receive prizes from $150 to $500 in cash.

“One year, someone made a Hot Cheeto tamal in the gourmet category and we also had someone make an Oreo tamal in the sweet category,” Savare said. “It’s fun to see people get creative with what they put in their tamales. It’s also something that takes so much effort to make. And anyone over 18 can join. We’ve had families participate.”

Savare said that a popular question people ask is if only restaurants or professionals submit tamales for the competition and she said that everyone is welcome as long as they’re an adult.

The tamal contest begins at noon and the winners will be announced at 4 p.m. Aside from tamales, there will be other foods for sale such as churros, fry bread, tacos and more from local vendors. 

Artisans will be selling their wares such as paintings, beadwork and other art while items such as chiles and handmade soaps can be found in the farmer maket area. People of all ages are welcome and the festival is free to attend.

“I’m personally excited for some ground beef tacos,” Savare said. “There’s going to be so many food vendors and artisans. And you’ll get to speak with the vendors and learn about how long it takes for them to make their things.”

The festival will also include live entertainment such as Aztec dancers, mariachis, Tejano performances, folklorico dance groups as well as cultural dancers from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

“I’m looking forward to the folklorico dancers because they always have the coolest costumes and there’s dancers of all ages in the groups,” Savare said.

Plus, children will have the opportunity to go take pictures with Santa Claus.