the chilies rellenos and fried plantains mixing with the aroma of sizzling pork ribs. Then, you could hear it -- the hot salsa music throbbing, the Latin drums, the cries of "viva."

And, when you turned the corner onto Columbia Road in Adams-Morgan, there it was, the city's 15th Hispanic Festival, a street party of balloons and dancers wearing hot-pink ruffles, baton-twirlers and parade queens with rhinestone tiaras waving to the crowd.

Festival action started Saturday with booths representing virtually every Latin American country, selling a mix of items from red leather punk belts to aqua-blue sombreros.

It continued yesterday, drawing about 17,500 people, with a crepe paper and marching band parade, with sidewalk toasts of cold beer and, of course, with food.

Food is what attracted Richard Udell, a congressional staff assistant from the District. He stood on a corner about midday, a loaded paper plate in one hand, a plastic fork in the other.

"You've heard of writer Calvin Trillin, and his search for the best American food?" he asked.

"Well, this is the search for the best shish kebab and ribs, plantainos fritas and tortillas, the best enchiladas and best Dorito."

Food also lured Janet McElligott, 24, an administrative assistant with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "I came last year," she said, "and the food was just so wonderful and so different from what I normally eat, which is Lean Cuisine."

Crowds lined up at the "Guatemala Te Saluda" booth for tamales and enchiladas.

They clustered about the booth where Giovanni Gonzalez, 30, a Panamanian, was serving a mixture of food ranging from grilled Argentinian beef dishes to Peruvian beef hearts.

Festival-goers bought grilled sausages from sidewalk barbecues. They ordered the Mexican "especial" from the Yucatan, which was pork tacos, fried plantains and a pint of Gallo wine.

Even D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, after walking the hot parade route, said he could really go for a taco.

"This is the biggest, and the best," the mayor said of the parade.

Cecilia Estrada-Jones, a 29-year-old budget technician with the Organization of American States, said her mother had come for the food -- the ceviche and the fritadas -- but that she wanted to see the parade.

In particular, she watched for the Ecuadorian Union float. Last year, she was the float queen and got to wave to the crowds. "I wish I was the queen again this year," she said.

"I came because, to tell you the truth, Washington can be a pretty bland place to live," said Dick Marks, 29, a carpenter who lives in the District.

"This is more interesting," he said. "There are a bunch of different people here."

People pushed baby strollers and hoisted children to their shoulders. They wandered the street in flip-flops and cutoff jeans, as well as sun dresses cut to expose much skin.

John Carroll, 13, and three friends -- Marcus Gilmore, 12; Richard Figueiras, 14, and John's 12-year-old brother, Richard -- came in identical black "Doin' the Do With Miller Beer" T-shirts, hats and scarves.

Members of the Sociedad Juvenil Ramitas de Borinquen marching band wore white go-go boots and turquoise dresses shot with silver sparkles.

Vivian Aponte, 17, this year's Puerto Rican float queen, wore a long white dress and a tiara, but said the heat didn't bother her. "I'm having a good time," she said.

Wearing a large straw hat to protect him against the sun was Thomas Wondong, 29, a Nigerian who has lived in Washington for two years.

Yesterday, he manned a booth, where he sold hats, sunglasses and necklaces.

"Hot sale going on here," he yelled to the crowd. "Hot sale here."

"It's a good festival," said Wondong, "because it brings a lot of people together from different backgrounds and races.

"It's quite peaceful. It's a unifying process for the people who live here. It helps them to understand each other."