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Tacos Tacos Tacos, and then some at second-annual taco eating contest

Ten contestants attempted to eat 20 tacos each in under 30 minutes at Blacklist Brewing Co. on Friday evening.

Two people competing in a taco eating contest
Mike Koskinen, of Woodbury, Minn., left, laughs while Sir Jeff Niceswanger, of Duluth, tries to successfully complete a bite of his taco Friday evening during Tacos Tacos Tacos' second annual taco eating contest at Blacklist Brewing Co. in Duluth.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Just in time for National Hispanic Heritage Month, Tacos Tacos Tacos held its second annual taco eating contest Friday at Blacklist Brewing Co. Ten contestants vied to consume 20 tacos each for a cash prize, with celebrity judges, special guests, DJ Chris Allen and a live performance by the Trash Cats.

Tacos Tacos Tacos owner Robert Giuliani cooked up the idea for the annual event after watching the hot dog eating contest at Deluxe Coney Island in Duluth. The inaugural taco eating contest was held last year in celebration of six months in business. It was quite a spectacle, he said.

Taco eating contest judge inspects plates
Tacos Tacos Tacos owner/chef Robert Guiliani, second from right, inspects plates while determining the third-place finisher as Lizzie Easter, left, Steve Abbott, second from left, and Scott High look on after Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Tacos Tacos Tacos anticipates the opening of its Superior Street location later this year, and is also working on opening a new location on West Seventh Street in St. Paul. The traditional Mexican street taqueria was recently awarded by the "2022 Star Tribune Reader's Choice Minnesota's Best" contest with first place for Best Taco and second place for Best Mexican Restaurant.

Speaking of awards, not many can say they've eaten their way to the top quite like those competing Friday evening. The 2021 champion, Ethan Teske, finished 20 El Pastor tacos in just six minutes and 48 seconds, but was unable to return to defend his title this year.

Taco eating contest
Participants dig in to take their first bites in Tacos Tacos Tacos' second-annual taco eating contest Friday at Blacklist Brewing Co. in Duluth.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"We have our second-place returning champion coming," Allen announced. "Devin Garrett tells us he's got a strange itching sensation and a hunger that was not able to satisfy him last year."

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Tacos during a taco eating contest
Treys of tacos as seen Friday at Blacklist Brewing Co. in Duluth during Tacos Tacos Tacos' second-annual taco eating contest. Each participant raced to see who could successfully eat 20 tacos the fastest.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Then there was fireman Scott High, there to "eat the heat."

Blacklist Brewery bartender Mike Lefaive claimed if he could eat one thing the rest of his life, it would be tacos.

The sole woman in the line-up, Lizzie Easter, said she gets a lot of joy from stuffing her face violently with Mexican food.

Tommy Jacobson was complimented for his beautiful beard.

Steve Abbott said he was Stillwater, Minnesota's men's hardshell champion in 2012, earning the title after eating a bag of chips.

Man eating a taco
Bryan Kent, left, takes a bite out of a taco while Scott High attempts to successfully complete a bite of a taco while competing in Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

A cappella singer Sir Jeff revealed his real last name: Niceswanger.

Coming all the way from Woodbury, Minnesota, Mike Koskinen gained a little liquid encouragement pre-contest.

The last contestant to take the stage was Kalen Kuehl.

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After their cheeky introductions, Giuliani laid out the rules with some slight changes from the previous year. Each contestant would be served a platter of 20 arachero steak tacos on double tortillas, topped with cilantro, onions, cucumbers and radishes on the side and an option of salsa roja or salsa verde with tomatillos and avocado.

Man drinks water during taco eating contest
Kalen Kuehl takes a drink of water while competing in Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"Last time we did el pastor, but we decided to give it a little kick and do the steak taco," Giuliani said.

A look of intimidation spread across contestants faces as the trays were brought to the stage. The crowd cheered, "Bring on the tacos!"

With that, the timer began. More jeers from the audience encouraged participants to chew faster, stand up and breath. "Always be chewing!"

Some rushed through, eating the meat and toppings first while saving the tortillas for last. Some froze and watched others in amazement as they made love to the tacos with their mouth. There was sweat, and maybe a few tears.

“Once you use the buckets you are done,” Allen reminded the contenders.

Kuehl started out strong, until he just couldn't hold it in any longer. He headed straight to the restroom, stopping for a few hugs and high-fives along the way.

Man makes a face during a taco eating contest
Mike Koskinen, of Woodbury, Minn., center, works on completing a successful bite of a taco while competing Friday in Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Meanwhile, Koskinen was the clear leader of last, Allen announced.

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After the 10-minute mark, the taco eating had slowed significantly. Red-faced and shirts stained, contenders stretched, danced or jumped up and down to let gravity do its work. It was enough to bring one man to his knees.

Taco eating contest
Devin Garrett, third from left, of Duluth, holds up a sign that says "Listo" to signal his completion of eating 20 tacos during Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"Eat the shells, baby!" Onlookers demanded. "Breathe through your nose!"

Anticipation grew as Garrett neared the finish line. After packing down the last of his soft shells, just the radishes remained on the plate.

People watching a taco eating contest
Spectators laugh and smile while watching Tacos Tacos Tacos' taco eating contest Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The crowd roared. Allen hinted that Kent was closing in on second place, with Niceswanger not far behind for the third spot. It was at that point, Lefaive tapped out.

At 21 minutes and 38 seconds, this year's champion Garrett lifted his "Listo" sign, indicating his empty plate had passed inspection. His prize: $250 cash.

Taco eating contest winner about to receive their prize
Tacos Tacos Tacos owner/chef Robert Guiliani, right, prepares to present Devin Garrett, of Duluth, the first-place check Friday. Garrett finished second in the taco eating competition in 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

When asked how he was feeling after claiming taco glory, Garrett responded, "Not great, but also great. It was harder this time with steak versus pork —a lot more chewy. I would not recommend the contest; however, I do recommend Tacos Tacos Tacos. I probably won't touch another taco until there is snow on the ground."

Coming in second place, Kent ate his last taco at 28 minutes, 15 seconds, winning $100 cash.

"I'm feeling hot," Kent admitted. While he never stopped eating, consuming 20 tacos was a lot harder than he anticipated. Kent stated he would probably not hold another taco in his hand until his infant grandson graduates high school.

In just under 30 minutes, Niceswanger was the last to clear his plate — taking home third and the $50 cash prize. The remaining participants were allowed to take home leftovers, in addition to the goodie bags donated by the evening's sponsors.

The event wrapped up with a performance from Trash Cats and free tacos for guests with an open donation to Second Harvest .

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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