Last night proved to be one of those delightfully balmy evenings that Houston is graced with sometimes, even in December. It was perfect for the approximately 200 attendees who gathered on the patio of The El Cantina Superior to taste tamales, as well as margaritas, and vote on their favorites.
Five different restaurants competed in both the tamale and margarita categories. The free event, sponsored by El Jimador Tequila, featured Radical Eats, Texas Tamale Company, Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, Los Tios and three-time Best Margarita winner El Big Bad (formerly El Gran Malo).
When randomly asking attendees what their favorites were, it was obvious that every restaurant had its own fans. Some people said how much they liked Sylvia's margarita with the addition of blackberry, peach and mango purée. Others complemented the interesting rabbit tamale with a slightly sweet green mole created by chef Jonathan Jones of El Big Bad.
(An interesting note: it turns out that Jones is a bit like the event's godfather. Last night, he related that he and former Houston Press restaurant critic Katharine Shilcutt came up with the idea for the event while he was still at Xuco Xicana four years ago.)
Many attendees raved about the El Big Bad margarita made with baked apple and spice-infused El Jimador tequila. The restaurant worked on infusing it as soon as they arrived on-site with a clever, pressurized technique. There was no doubt they were once again a serious contender.
However, once the ballot boxes were picked up and the voting coins were counted, it proved that El Big Bad lost its crown for this year. Radical Eats wowed the crowd with its tamarind margarita with a rim dipped in tangy ground tamarind, salt and spices.
Radical Eats also brought a Guatemalan-style turkey and potato tamale served atop a strip of banana leaf. The meaty, spiced goodness very nearly gained them a full competition sweep.
Ultimately, attendees decided that when it comes to tamales, they're all about tradition. Los Tios won the tamale category, with their traditional pork and chicken renditions. Both chile gravy and queso were served alongside.
When asked why they thought they won the tamale category, an employee named Roberto said, "Because it's very traditional. Los Tios has been making tamales since 1970. They never have changed anything about it."
Thanks to The El Cantina Superior, El Jimador, all of the competing restaurants and attendees for making Tequila and Tamales such a terrific event. We hope to see you next year!