I think the Taste of Huntington Beach is my favorite event of the year and not just because of how full I am at the end of the day.
Since 2002, the Taste has raised more than $400,000 for the Huntington Beach Children's Library. As co-organizer Gail Page explained, the festival had its genesis around 1987 after a small Valentine's Day gala that featured appetizers and desserts from local restaurants.
Since then it has grown into a true culinary spectacular, featuring more than 50 restaurants, wineries, breweries, raffle prizes, silent auctions and more. The celebrity guest this year is Neil Saavedra, host of KFI AM 640's weekly food show, "The Fork Report."
Were it not for three husband-and-wife volunteer teams — Bill and Elaine Parker, Dan and Gail Page, and Gary Thormodsgaard and Ellie Ward — virtually none of this would be possible.
I'm indebted to the folks who run Taste for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that last year they invited the winner of my annual student essay competition to cut the ribbon to open the event and then enjoy, with family members, all the offerings.
To that end, I'm proud to announce that this year's essay winner is Fountain Valley High School junior Tiffany Tran. Coincidentally, her essay deals with a restaurant, and so I'm sure she'll enjoy tasting at the Taste this weekend.
Here is her winning piece:
`A Delicious Heaven'
"Unknown to even locals, obscured by many other food chains, is a place of comfort and ease. Its name? The Tea Party Lounge.
Located within the Albertsons Plaza off Brookhurst and Edinger in the city of Fountain Valley, it seems like a fairly common-looking boba shop. To many, it just looks like another restaurant in a row of many other restaurants.
To me? When I reach for the metallic door handles, see the inside through the glass panes and smile as I walk in, I feel refreshed and excited. This is the only boba shop I know that is flexible enough to make drinks off the menu.
It is quite hard knowing that the only way to get your favorite drink is by making it yourself. It is not necessarily hard to make my drink, but I like the feeling I get knowing I have an excuse to walk through nature for a reward.
My favorite drink is vanilla milk tea, by the way. Simple, right? Milk tea and vanilla extract. Yet when I ask any other boba shop, they are unwilling to try something new. We live in the 21st century! More boba shops need to be more creative and flexible.
The Tea Party Lounge certainly is. From macaroons to white gummy bears, to green waffle ice cream sandwiches, this place has it all. It is a to-go stop as well as a sit-down restaurant. Whether I feel like eating a meal, such as their simply delicious shrimp garlic noodles, or a snack, such as their just-right spicy popcorn chicken, I admire this store to its core.
It offers authentic Vietnamese dishes from Bún bò Hu¿ to Ph¿ Bò to Bò Lúc L¿c, French desserts, such as beignets, to the common milk teas. I can spend hours at their store taking sips of my drinks, stuffing myself with snacks, while reading a book. It's that relaxing.
Their designs are abstractly modern, which make them appealing to young adults, while their dishes make them appealing to an older generation. The staff never fails to greet me with warm smiles and are willing to do anything in their powers to satisfy their customers.
I've been to many boba shops, but the quality of this one always astounds me. I am grateful to have such a store so close to home that offers many of my favorite drinks and foods. The Tea Party Lounge is my happy place, my connection to my culture, my stress reliever. The Tea Party Lounge: a heaven I will never forget."
Well done, Tiffany, and congratulations. And the same goes to the incredibly dedicated people who put on the annual Taste of Huntington Beach.
To purchase tickets, visit tasteHB.com, and here's looking forward to a wonderful and satisfying event from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex adjacent to Central Library.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.