Salsa Contest Heats Up Mariachi Festival

(L-R) Calexico Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hildy Carrillo congratulates second place winner Dolores Jimenez, third place winner Juana Inez Esparza, and first place winner Lizbeth Buelna at Calexico’s salsa contest during the Mariachi Festival.

CALEXICO — As the sun went down, things were still heating up at Calexico’s 25th Annual Mariachi Sin Fronteras’ salsa contest at the Carmen Durazo Cultural Arts Center. The annual salsa contest brought in four competitors hoping to win by offering some spicy tastes of their savory home-made salsa.

The panel of four judges, which included Imperial County Sheriff-Coroner Raymond Loera, Calexico Chief of Police Reggie Gomez, She-Devil Pastry Owner Janina Farias and Imperial Valley Press Publisher Belinda Mills, had their mouths tantalized, and then the salsa tasting closed as deliberations began with each salsa rated with a number between one and 10.

“The salsa competition is a tradition during our Mariachi Festival,” said Hildy Carrillo, Calexico Chamber of Commerce executive director. “This is an event people look forward to attending year after year.”

Each year the salsa contest attracts new faces who hope to nab the top prize. However, there are a few standards who return like last year’s winner, Calexico resident, Juana Inez Esparza. This year, Esparza won third place with a different salsa, named “La Negrita,” consisting of jalapeño chile, tomatillo, garlic, cilantro and salt.

Esparza said participating in the contest brings her great satisfaction as she enjoys making salsa and sharing it with others.

First place winner and bragging rights for one year went to Calexico resident Lizbeth Buelna with her “Mi Sabrosura” salsa, made with chile, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, cilantro, salt and a “secret” ingredient.

“It feels fabulous to have won first place,” said Buelna. “It’s fantastic to know people really like my salsa and taking first place says it all.”

Buelna said her recipe is a family heirloom that has been shared generation to generation. Often Buelna is asked to make salsas for private events, which she said she accepts with joy.

Dolores Jimenez, a resident of Bell, was in Calexico visiting her daughter, who encouraged her to participate — resulting in second place with her salsa “La Sabrosona.” The salsa consisted of chile puya, chile de arbol, tomatillo, garlic and salt.

“I am simply thrilled,” said Jimenez. “I have never competed in my life. I really enjoyed it. I was here on vacation and ended up having a fabulous time with such pleasant and warm people who made me feel at home. I sure wish my city would have events like these.”

Competing with “Salsa Especial de la Casa” were sisters Martha Sandoval and Liz Zepeda who took fourth place. The salsa is a specialty at the Neighborhood Meat Market owned by the sisters who said their salsa is a hot item as many visit the store specifically to purchase the famous salsa.

“Our salsa is made with tomatoes, chile seco, pico de pajaro, avocado, cilantro, green onion, radish, jalapeño peppers, garlic, salt and habanero peppers. However, my sister left out the habanero due to the spiciness,” said Sandoval. “I am excited to be a participant of this competition.”

Competitors’ salsa entries were judged on taste, presentation and creativity. The winner was awarded two tickets to Saturday’s 25th Annual Mariachi Festival, a commemorative t-shirt and a cash prize.

The Mariachi Idol contest also culminated Thursday as Calipatria resident George Prieto and 13-year-old Yahir Garduño performed during the semifinal.

The Mariachi Idol Competition began Tuesday evening where Prieto and Garduño were chosen to compete in the semifinals. Subsequent to performing for the past three nights, Garduño took first place.

“It was a very hard decision as both contestants have given great performances,” said Gil Acuña, a committee member.

Prieto will perform Friday evening during the Tequila Tasting and will be crowned winner during the Mariachi Festival Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church’s Juan Diego Parish Hall.

Garduño said he was happy to have participated and is planning  to participate in next year’s Mariachi Idol competition.