You may often hear about downtown Bakersfield's thriving dining scene but if work or fun doesn't often bring you there, it just feels like talk. The Bakersfield Downtown Business Association is making it easier to sample some of the area's best Thursday at its Taste of Downtown. 

In its fifth year, the gathering offering tastings of 15 area food vendors is making it one-stop snacking. Last year's event, which encouraged attendees to wander among the many participating restaurants, burned a little too much shoe leather, organizers said.

For Thursday's event, the food and other vendors will set up along Wall Street Alley (from H Street to Chester Avenue) and Eye Street between 18th and 19th streets.

"We went to Long Beach (for their event)," said Cornelio Gutierrez-Lozano, director of membership and events for the DBA. "They did it the exact same way, confined in one area. It's one big party."

And the local event should deliver on that as well, with tastings including fried rice from Mi Peru, calamari from Mama Roomba, barbecue pizza from Jerry's Pizza and steak fries from Muertos Kitchen and Lounge.

Muertos owner "Shawna (Haddad-Byers), her fries are to die for," Gutierrez-Lozano said.

Other vendors include Centro 18 Cuisine and Lounge, Guild House, CraSh Lounge, Crab in a Bag, Johanna's Ice Cream & Candy Shoppe, La Rosa and The Garden Spot Cafe. Food trucks Curbside Kitchen, Golden Tacos, El Milagro and Banderas Burger Grill will also take part.

The event is free to attend, with food available with tasting tickets ($1). Samples vary in number of tickets required but Gutierrez-Lozano recommends starting with 40 to 50 to cover your bases. Tickets are sold in packs of 10 ($10) in advance on the website bakersfielddba.com/tod or at the DBA's table at the event.

If all this snacking leaves attendees a bit thirsty, they can check out the contenders in the Downtown Martini Competition. A popular event from last year, the contest sends a panel of judges to each of the competing restaurants and bars to sample their contender, which must use at least one ingredient from a downtown food business.

Cocktails will be judged on originality, use of downtown product, taste and presentation by five judges including Maddie Janssen and Jason Galvin of KGET-17 and KERN Radio 1180 host Scott Cox.

Reigning champion CraSh will face seven challengers: Happy Hour Bar & Tapas, Uricchio's Trattoria, The Silver Fox Starlite Lounge, Mi Peru, Centro 18, Jerry's Pizza and The Green Room Bar.

The winner will be announced around 7:30 p.m. but attendees can still judge for themselves, purchasing the martinis at the businesses.

A beer garden, selling $5 brews, will be set up at Blackboard Barber Shop on 19th Street. Next door, House of Flowers will offer free wine tastings. 

Also part of the fun this year is waiter races, challenging servers to maneuver an obstacle course while items are added to the plates they carry.

Last year's event drew about 250 people but the DBA is hoping to double that number Thursday. 

More people means more awareness for all the businesses thriving in the area, Gutierrez-Lozano said.

"I hope people will take away from this how many restaurants we have downtown."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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