December Nights is canceled, but drive-thru ‘Taste of’ event will go on next weekend
Inaugural Taste of December Nights will run Friday-Sunday in the parking lot at Inspiration Point Way
For the first time in more than 40 years, the December Nights holiday festival that draws nearly 300,000 annual visitors to Balboa Park has been canceled. But a festive new COVID-safe food event will take its place next weekend.
Taste of December Nights, featuring about 20 food vendors from past December Nights events along with several new ones, will offer drive-through meal service from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6, in the parking lot at Inspiration Point Way in Balboa Park.
City of San Diego officials were forced to cancel the 42nd annual December Nights this year due to social distancing measures required by the pandemic. Over the summer, city officials began kicking around ideas on how to resurrect at least some portions of the event. Re-creating a food-only experience seemed the safest way to proceed, according to Natasha Collura, the city’s executive director for special events and filming.
Since the new event was announced a few months ago, Collura said the city has received tremendous feedback from the community, so they are expecting a lot of drive-up visitors.
To accommodate demand and reduce wait times, Taste of December Nights will be spread over three days, rather than two, beginning at 11 a.m. To encourage visits before the crowded dinner hours, drivers of the first 500 cars to arrive each day will receive a free commemorative tote bag.
The trucks and vendors chosen for the event serve a wide variety of menu items in a range of prices, including American, Kenyan, Cajun, Korean, Italian, Greek, German, Chinese, Filipino and French food. Also, during the daytime hours, a large tented area will also be hosted by the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, whose volunteers will be preparing traditional ethnic dishes. The vendor list with all of the menus can be found at sandiego.gov/taste-of-december-nights/eat-drink.
The event’s most high-profile food vendor is San Diego celebrity chef Lauren Lawless, who will be introducing her new hot-pink Flawless Cuisine food truck to San Diegans for the first time.
“We’re very excited,” she said. “This is a passion for me. I love sharing my food with the world. Being there and being able to serve people and be COVID-friendly is exciting.”
Raised in Pacific Beach, Lawless is a 30-year-old self-trained chef who has cooked her way through several TV cooking competitions. In 2017, she competed on Fox’s “MasterChef” series and she was recently crowned season 2 champion on Food Network’s “Supermarket Stakeout.” She will also be featured on season 19 of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” which will premiere Jan. 7 on Fox.
Lawless runs a catering company and is a personal chef and recipe consultant, so her cooking knowledge is expansive. Her food truck menu reflects that versatility. Among the eight menu items she will be serving next weekend are chicken tikka masala grilled cheese with mint chutney, steak gumbo bread bowl, fig jam and Gorgonzola sliders, and Mexican hot chocolate with doughnut holes.
This will be the first time Lawless has worked at a December Nights event. Usually, she and her two children are on the consuming end of the food at the holiday event, where she said they loved seeing the lights and decorations and sharing tapas plates at the International Cottages.
“My birthday is on the 27th of December, so I’m a Christmas baby and I’m a huge food junkie. I have always loved sampling all of the foods at December Nights and also seeing all the beautiful lights,” she said.
Although there won’t be live music or entertainment at Taste of December Nights, there will be prize giveaways throughout the tree-day event, including free tickets to Balboa Park museums and the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Padres gift bags and vouchers for free concerts and car washes.
Diners can check out the menus online and also when they arrive, and a map will direct drivers to the trucks and tents set up in the multilevel parking lot. Each vendor will have two order lanes where attendants will take orders and then deliver the food by hand. To reduce wait times, vendors will be serving a limited menu of no more than eight items.
To ensure safe conditions, Taste visitors will not be allowed to leave their cars and masks must be worn. No orders will be taken from walk-up, scooter or bicycle customers. Credit card transactions are strongly recommended. There will be no onsite public bathrooms.
For event details, vendor menus and other tips, visit sandiego.gov/taste-of-december-nights.
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