BETHESDA – The Bethesda community came together once again on Oct. 5 for the 30th annual Taste of Bethesda, a food and music festival organized by the Bethesda Urban Partnership. The festival welcomed between 30,000 to 40,000 attendees, bringing in more than 40 restaurants and 13 musical guests and dance troupes.
The festival took place at Woodmont Triangle, spanning intersections along Norfolk Avenue. Restaurants included chain brands such as Smoothie King and local shops such as Tout de Sweet pastry shop.
Musical guests were split up among five stages on the ends of each road, drawing in excited crowds as they sat down to eat the food they collected from the different stands at the 500 tables set up for the event.
Attendees walked down the street with faces painted and carrying balloons from the kids section of the festival.
Stephanie Coppula, the director of marketing and communications for Bethesda Urban Partnership, called the festival a “(celebration) of restaurants in downtown Bethesda.”
Coppula and her team spent several months coordinating the event, with early stages focused on inviting restaurants and finding sponsors. As the event approached, the team moved on to deal with logistical details and finding entertainment for the festival. On the day of, Coppula said it took five hours to set up before the event.
“All the stuff we don’t want people to worry about,” Coppula said of the little details. “We just want them to come and have a good time.”
Mario Aragon and Lauren Topper, Bethesda residents, said they came out because it was right outside of their apartment. It was their third year attending.
“It’s a good excuse to get a bunch of different food,” said Aragon, having tastes of restaurants Duck Duck Goose, Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle and Morton’s the Steakhouse.
Each year, Taste of Bethesda invites local media and food bloggers to taste and judge the food from the different restaurants. Laura Zucker, who runs the blog The Hungry Truffle, was brought on to judge for the event at the last minute, taking the opportunity after having had a good experience being a judge for last year’s Taste of Bethesda.
At the time, she found Georgetown Cupcake to be her highest-ranked food stand.
“I kind of know what to expect,” Zucker said. “But I had such a good experience last year that I thought it would be fun to come back.”
Each of the four judges take on about 10 different restaurants, tasting food that volunteers bring to them at their tent in the center of the festival. The judges individually score restaurants based on six qualities: presentation, taste, texture, consistency, creativity and originality.
“How do you take a creative spin on a classic, right?” Brian Johnson, a judge and founder of the food blog Hungry Lobbyist, said about how he judges creativity. “What are you bringing to this dish that we haven’t seen before?”
“Everything’s been really good, everything’s been really fresh,” he said.
Johnson, who lives in Washington, D.C., came on to judge as a way to support the community.
“I love the area,” Johnson said. “I think it’s important to support local community events like this.”
Drawing a large crowd was Furia Flamenca, a flamenco dance company based in Fairfax, Virginia. Dressed in vibrant colors and led by male soloist Daniel Paredez, the company wanted to show flamenco as an individual dance.
“The art of flamenco is often misunderstood for social dance,” Estela Velez, the artistic director of Furia Flemenca, said. “Everyone knows the pasodoble, so they think of pasodoble as a social dance, a ballroom dance.”
Furia Flamenca was first founded in 2003, with five of its founding dancers still with them to this day. The company has since been called every two or three years to take the stage for the festival.
“It’s a way for me to be able to educate, share what we do, make sure that people understand and start seeing it for what it is: another performing arts,” Velez said, “not necessarily a social dance.”
Velez was excited to see such a large crowd, after Furia Flamenca’s last Taste of Bethesda in 2016 saw only three audience members in the pouring rain.
“This was great today!” Velez said in relief at the end of the company’s performance. “There were lots of people around. It’s a fabulous festival.”
The Judges selected Silver, Casa Oaxaca The Red Bandana Bakery and Jaleo as the winners of Bethesda’s Best Bite.