The Real Taco Fest returns to Cincinnati’s riverfront

Locals will have an opportunity to try countless different kinds of tacos from area eateries when The Real Taco Fest returns to Cincinnati’s riverfront this month.

This is the third year for the festival, to be held at Smale Riverfront Park.

“We have increased the number of vendors to meet demand. Last year, we had 1,000 more attendees than the year previous,” said Ben Howard, producer of The Real Taco Fest.

Howard, who organizes the festival with his business partner, Jamie Mandel, said there’s clearly a ton of amazing taco options in Cincinnati and there is also a demand from taco fans who are looking for an event like this to sample tacos on the river.

“It’s all about tacos, so if you love tacos, which are very popular, you can come to one central location and enjoy tacos. It’s an inexpensive way to surround yourself with so many options,” Howard said.

He said the challenge from the vendors is “How can I put my personality and my stamp on a taco?”

The Real Taco Fest will be May 11. Ticket sales are limited to 2,000 tickets for each session to mitigate long lines.

“A huge effort, and a point of pride on our format is that we want to make sure that people have as much food as they want to eat. So, we don’t want super long lines, and we do the admission ticketing limitation to curb that. We’ve succeeded in that the past couple of years, too,” Howard said. “People were able to have as much as they wanted, and sample a lot of different things, and hang out and relax.”

There were 12 vendors the first year, 17 vendors last year, and 20 taco vendors this year.

“Last year, we sold 12,000 tacos to a 3,000-person crowd,” said Howard. “We are a home-grown fest. I’m from Cincinnati, so we grew up here, and we’re trying to be the answer. You’re coming here to have a boutique experience. You have a limited opportunity to buy your ticket, and attend, and when you’re here, the world is your oyster. You have 20 different vendors you can choose from, and they are all waiting for you,” Howard said.

Vendors will include Best Thing Smokin’, Casa Mexico Mexican Grill, Condado Tacos, El Cardenal Taqueria, El Taco Veloz, El Trompo Mexican Grill, and 14 more.

There will be chicken, steak, pork and fish tacos available. More than half of the vendors will offer vegetarian options, and many will have gluten-free items. A complete list of vendors and an event map is available on the festival’s website at

Beverage options will include canned cocktails by Canvus Cocktails, and ESPECIAL beer from Fifty West Brewing Company, who serve as the event’s sponsors.

Entertainment throughout the day will include a live DJ with music from DJ MagicHoot. The event is family-friendly with access to the park’s playground and other attractions.

The first 250 people through the gate at each session will receive a 2 oz. sample bag of “Covington Gold Dust” by Farmer Nate’s Hot Sauce.

A portion of the proceeds from The Real Taco Fest 2024 will benefit The Ion Center for Violence Prevention. The non-profit’s mission is to support survivors of all identities who have experienced power-based personal violence (sexual and/or intimate partner violence) by offering 24/7, free and confidential responsive services as well as survivor-centered advocacy programs.

How to go

What: The Real Taco Fest 2024

When: Saturday, May 11. There will be two sessions: noon to 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Smale Riverfront Park, 166 W Mehring Way, downtown Cincinnati

Cost: $10 admission, children ages 10 and under are free. (Tickets are $15 the day of the event – online or at the door.) Taco, side item, and drink tickets are $4 each. Guests may also purchase a Super Taco Pack (in advance only,) which includes admission plus 11 taco tickets for the price of 10 for $50. Tickets will be available the day of the event if the session(s) don’t sell out in advance.

More Info.: Limited seating available. Guests may bring blankets. There are 2,000 tickets available for each session.

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