Photo by Keith MayIn less time than it took War Emblem to win this year's Kentucky Derby, a guy named Wes won the ninth-annual Cinco de Mayo Burrito Eating Contest at OC Taco House in Huntington Beach. Wes won in a stunning upset, defeating five-time defending champion Lori by four seconds. Wes' time of 1:56 was enough to clinch victory this year, though Lori retains the record with her astonishing 1:30 last year.
The burrito Lori, Wes and 23 other contestants ate was the OC Taco House Grande Burrito, served with rice, beans, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, onions, cilantro and their choice of ground beef, shredded beef, carnitas or chicken. It is one and a half feet long, weighs three pounds, and requires two paper plates side by side to support it. While normally retailing for $5.79, all contestants got theirs at half-price.
Long before the contest began, everyone knew the 21-year-old Lori—whose athletic frame had deceived many rivals in the past—was the one to beat. An hour before the competition, she was relaxing inside with her family and friends; she looked comfortable in jeans and a dark-blue T-shirt, her platinum hair pulled behind her in a ponytail. Seated next to the window with a clear view of the contest table in the parking lot, she listened as her family talked of her past triumphs.
"I watched the contest a year before I first entered, when my dad won," explained Lori. "I recorded it, then watched it over and over. That's when I realized I could do that, too."
Brian, a newcomer to the competition, was confident. "I will take [Lori] down," he said confidently during sign-in. "I had breakfast this morning, and I did just eat two tacos, but I think I can take her."
At 1 p.m., the staff began registering the contestants. They were an eclectic bunch—husky men, tiny women, teens and even little kids. Next to them and beneath an autographed picture of Judge Judy, an employee silently shelled oysters.
In line, third-year contestant Amelia, who placed fifth last year, was fatalistic. "That girl Lori is going to win again," she said. "We call her the beast. She'll beat all these big biker types. They don't have a chance."
The first to sit at the table of honor were some cocky teens. Soon a little towheaded kid sat next to them. "You in the contest?" one of the teens asked. The kid nodded warily. The teen gave him a thumbs-up.
Seated, Brian tried to psych himself up. "You know, there are pipe bombs going off, and here we are eating burritos," he said. "I guess the key is just to eat it. A big part of this is going to be the meat selection. I chose ground beef because I figure it means I have to do less chewing."
By now, a huge crowd of 50 locals and well-wishers had gathered around the tables in the parking lot. When Lori finally came out and took her seat, there was a smattering of respectful applause for the returning hero.
The last burrito was delivered to the contestants at 1:40 p.m. A minute later, the contest began. Lori tore into her burrito, shredding the tortilla much as a pack of starving jackals rip into a fresh gazelle. With both hands, Lori scooped huge handfuls of burrito guts into her mouth. Almost instantly, her face, shirt and hands were covered with a mix of sour cream, cheese and beef.
At another table, the unknown Wes was displaying the same ferocity and fortitude. "As he ate, he started spewing food," said Amelia, who sat at the same table. "Then he started washing his face with water. It kinda grossed me out."
Less than two minutes after the owner yelled, "Go!" Wes placed the last burrito bit into his mouth and entered the history books. Contestants like Brian and veterans like Amelia were not even halfway through their burritos.
"I just found out about this yesterday in the paper," Wes said after the contest. For his achievement, Wes won a Coca-Cola clock, a picnic basket and a medal.
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Will he defend his honor next year?
"Maybe," he said. "We'll see if these prizes are worth it."
One of the last to finish was a fat guy in a fedora who ate his burrito with a knife and fork. Clearly, he was in it for the discounted food.
OC Taco House, 5942 Edinger Ave., Ste. 104, Huntington Beach, (714) 840-8226.