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Buns, bounce houses and robots: Mira Mesa Street Fair returns for 22nd year

Already large and earmarked for a population boom, the north central San Diego community of Mira Mesa exuded small-town charm on Saturday with the return of the Mira Mesa Street Fair.

Katherine Colella was, for instance, on the receiving end of neighborly kindness when a stranger paid $10 in cash for her 3-year-old son Charlie to use the inflatables, one of the only for-charge features at the event.

“I didn’t really have any expectations (of the street fair), but we saw the bouncy houses and my son was so excited,” said 24-year-old Colella, who moved from downtown to Mira Mesa three months ago to raise her son in a suburban environment. “We didn’t know it was cash only … . Then another person we don’t even know was like, ‘It’s okay. We’ll pay for you.’ Which was so sweet.”

On a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, the 22nd annual affair shut down a busy cross section of Camino Ruiz — between New Salem Street and Mira Mesa Boulevard — to provide community members with what organizers describe as a much-needed return to normalcy.

“Community is hugely important for any neighborhood … and especially as Mira Mesa has grown to be so large. We are at around 80,000 people and with the new community plan update, that’s going to grow a lot more,” said Bari Vaz, who is president of the Mira Mesa Town Council board, which organizes the event. “That’s the lifeblood of a community, to be able to join together and have events like the street fair that (people) can point to and say, this is something special for Mira Mesa.”

This year’s fair was reminiscent of past events with two performance stages, around 100 community booths and food vendors lining the sides of the street, and a kid-friendly zone with pony rides and bounce houses. The total crowd size for the event, which started at 10 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m., is expected to meet or exceed the attendance of years past, estimated at around 7,000 people, Vaz said.

The Mira Mesa Street Fair, which cost around $25,000 to put on, was coordinated by a dozen volunteers. The town council also leaned on Mira Mesa High School’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps for most of the day-of heavy lifting.

The event’s international food court — featuring a dozen vendors cooking up everything from Asian BBQ and ube desserts to Filipino favorites — was a hit with families searching for familiar foods or curious to taste new flavors.

Cantonese restaurant House of Bao drew the largest crowd, with some like 8-year-old Sunshine Sageviel anxious to try the milk tea.

“I’ve never tried it before,” she said while waiting in a long line with her dad, Ray. The pair visited the street fair by happenstance, deciding to check it out after driving by.

Others stopped by to get better acquainted with the place they call home.

“We just came to (learn) everything about the community, like how it was before and how it is now,” said 31-year-old Avinash Nalluri, who has lived in Mira Mesa for seven years and brought his 14-month-old son to the street fair. “It’s a great community.”

Local politicians, including outgoing District 6 Councilmember Chris Cate and the candidates seeking to replace him, made appearances or manned booths at the street fair. Attendees, however, flocked more to booths with freebies such as candy or temporary tattoos — and to the community stage, where groups like the Kaliloa O Kaleo’onalani dance studio put on shows for standing-room only crowds.

And the Marine Corps booth, featuring explosive ordnance disposal robots, was a popular destination for families with small kids.

“We let them play (with the robots),” said Staff Sergeant Jose Antuz, an EOD team leader with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton. “We set it up so that they can either drive (the robot) or … manipulate the arm, and (we) can put the brakes on it at any point.”

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