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Playing at Fiesta, NIOSA Style

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Dancers at NIOSA entertain the crowd.

My experiences of Tuesday nights during A Night in Old San Antonio have been that it’s the night to come if you want some elbow room. Sometimes the lines to the food and beer are shorter, too, but it’s a good idea to come early.

Gilbert Mancha grills anticuchos.

Maybe it was the cooler weather, or the fact they got cheated out of the Fiesta opener on Friday, but the crowds were out in force Tuesday at A Night in Old San Antonio at La Villita. By 6:30 p.m. it was looking like a Thursday to me.

“Why is this the best NIOSA ever?” This was my question to several people who looked like they were veterans of the rowdy, nose-to-shoulder party that goes on each night through Friday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.

“Because we needed it the most,” claimed Kim Smith.   True, most everyone had left their day-to-day cares at the gates, if the steady demand for beer and food sales was any indication.

In Sauerkraut Bend, the lines weren’t too bad for the sausage-on-a stick, beer or wine. But, if you wanted to sit and watch the polka dancers, it was hard to find a chair. Maria’s Tortillas, in the Haymarket, were as popular as ever. As the women in colorful peasant dress patted the fresh tortillas, the lines never dwindled.

Lynda Cootey and Casey Burnes enjoy NIOSA.

El Gusto dancers performing El Grito brought the slow-moving current of people nearly to a halt. The swirl of colorful skirts and quick steps of the dance were arresting.

Three other popular food items all came on sticks. The shish kebabs, big hunks of beef alternated with green peppers and anticuchos, spicy marinated beef sold briskly. A worthy contender was the very popular chicken-on-a-stick, topped with a jalapeño and, if you asked, a few of the spiced carrots from the jalapeño bucket.

“Where’d you get the schnitzel?” Someone shouted this to me in passing. I guess one might call it schnitzel — and there’s another idea for Sauerkraut Bend.

Just before I left, I found myself accidentally wandering inside the anticucho booth, so I took a photo of Gilbert Mancha, manning a smoking pile of anticuchos. I also had a brief word with Mark Rockwood, booth manager for the past seven years.

“How much beef will you sell tonight?” I asked.

“About 1,500 pounds,” he answered.

That’s a lot of beef, and testifies to the enduring popularity of anticuchos.

So did the answer to my last question of the night, to Lynda Cootey and Casey Burnes.

“Why is this the best NIOSA ever? “Because of the anticucho booth! We work it every year and every year it just gets better,” she said emphatically.

NIOSA continues through Friday at La Villita. Click here for more information.

Michael Cortines eats chicken on a stick.

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