Tuesday night's third annual Tequila & Tamales at Pearl Bar was a great success, with more than 200 people showing up to taste tamales and tequila cocktails from five restaurants.
Every single tamale I tried was delicious and worthy of a spot on your Christmas Eve dinner table (or a table any other time of year). It was clear from the outset, though, that two places were the front-runners in their categories.
I kept seeing people with pink-hued beverages in their hands, sipping a little too quickly on the libation that I later found out was from El Gran Malo. Owner Steve Sharma was there explaining the mix to people waiting eagerly in a long line for a glass of the cocktail that you could smell even before you got to the table manned by the the teams from El Gran Malo and its new sister bar/eatery, El Big Bad.
El Gran Malo, famous for its tequila infusions, pulled out all the stops to make a tasty, holiday-themed beverage containing cranberry-infused Agavales tequila. The drink -- The Champ 3, El Hat Trick -- mixed the cranberry tequila with churro tequila (infused with cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans), some lemon juice, lime juice and agave nectar. It was garnished with a dried cranberry on a wintergreen essence toothpick, which is what everyone could smell from across the room. Definitely festive.
In tallying up your votes, we found that El Gran Malo's tasty and multi-dimensional cocktail was your clear favorite. El Gran Malo and El Big Bad have both decided to make it a special this week, so stop by either spot and try the winning "El Hat Trick" drink.
The race for best tamale was a little closer, but there also seemed to be a favorite in that category before any actual votes were counted. The line to taste some of Irma's Galvan's famous tamales from Irma's Restaurant was the longest for the duration of the evening, with people waiting 10 to 15 minutes at some points for a single tamal.
Galvan and her team (yes, Galvan was at the event manning her station) created veggie-filled tamales with black beans and squash, which differentiated the group from the competition, who were serving primarily chicken and pork tamales. Irma's also put two different sauces on the tamales: a ruddy, velvety mole and a bright, spicy green sauce. Before being handed off to the hungry voter, the tamale got a sprinkle of queso from Galvan herself, adding the finishing touch to an already hefty serving.
You were the voters, but I think Irma's tamales won because they were the most interesting and complex on the eveneing. The two different sauces and sprinkle of cheese showed that there was care put into the preparation, and, well, you can't beat Galvan's earnest smile and energy, which were on display throughout the evening.
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"We don't care if we win," Galvan said midway through the evening. "We just want to make the best tamales, and I think we did."
The four other restaurants made a great showing as well, in both the tamale and tequila categories. La Mexicana, Texas Tamale Company, Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, El Gran Malo and Irma's all produced great tamales that anyone would be proud to serve and eat this Christmas. And heck, I'd be pretty pleased with any of those cocktails, too.
Congrats to the winners, and thanks to the competitors and everyone who came out to Pearl Bar to celebrate some of our favorite foods. See you next year!