3rd Alumni Taco Tasting Raises $50,000 for Scholarships
You know the food is good when members of two Houston restaurant dynasties join forces to judge the contest of tasty tacos. Phyllis and Tony Mandola—she the daughter of Tex-Mex Matriarch Ninfa Laurenzo and he with his namesake restaurant—and Jeff Vallone, son of restaurateur Tony Vallone of Ciao Bello and Tony’s, were the high-profile taste-testers for the 3rd Annual Two Saints and a Taco Tasting on April 24.
The event supported the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association Annual Scholarship and exceeded its goal, raising about $50,000 for deserving UST students.
About 450 people attended the popular event at St. Arnold Brewing Co., which brings together St. Thomas alumni and friends for a taco tasting competition from some of Houston’s best restaurants in combination with the taps of Texas’ oldest craft brewery.
The Mandolas and Vallone selected Tacos-A-Go-Go as the winner of the celebrity vote, probably because the pork tacos came sprinkled with fried onions.
In a people’s choice competition, El Rey, known for its Cuban and Mexican cuisine, won the beer bottle-cap election—it’s beef tacos with black beans and soft cooked plantains were a big hit.
There were also delicious taco entries from local restaurants: Escalantes, Hearsay Gastro Lounge, La Tapatia, Maria Selma’s, St. Arnold’s and Otilia’s Mexican Restaurant.
The Chocolate Bar and alumnus Tino Ramirez returned to provide desserts: chocolate tres leches, custom University of St. Thomas Alumni chocolates and a fill-your-bag candy bar of assorted Mexican candies.
With the high-energy Latin style music of alumnus Walter Suhr ’89 and Mango Punch! there was salsa on the dance floor in addition to the tacos. He ended the night playing his signature “UST Shining Star” song, an ode to St. Thomas’ “deep, well-rounded, rich education.”
There was also a successful silent auction full of saint-themed packages and a fun photo booth with Gwen Juarez photography.
The event was organized by chair Aaron Stryk ’01, co-chair Jennifer Mengis ’11 and a committee of alumni.
Stryk said Two Saints and a Taco Tasting is the Alumni Association’s biggest fundraiser, and it helps provide scholarships to those students who truly need it. Six past scholarship recipients thanked the guests for their support.
“I loved hearing the success stories of past scholarship recipients,” Stryk said. “It was a great reminder of why we are here in the first place.”
Stryk said the event continues to be a resounding success, not only in terms of raising scholarship funds, but also by bringing together more UST alumni to get involved in their alma mater. With a sold-out crowd, there was a lot of energy in the building, and he saw several faces he hadn’t seen in years.
“There is something special going on here when we can get so many alumni excited about a UST fundraiser,” Stryk said. “I hope we can continue to ride this wave of momentum well into the future. At this point, we’re only limited by the size of the building!”