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A Returning Champion Wins at the 2nd Annual Tequila & Tamales

Check out pics from the second annual Tequila & Tamales throwdown in our slideshow.

If anyone thought that El Gran Malo's win at the 2011 Tequila & Tamales throwdown was a fluke, last night's results should change their mind. The year prior, the gastrocantina on Ella won the Tequila portion of the event with a blueberry-vanilla infused tequila with habanero peppers. This year, owner Steve Sharma employed the same nitrous oxide canisters to the same great effect -- but with an entirely different infusion.

"This is a roasted jalapeño-infused tequila with cucumber agua fresca to bring it back down a bit," Sharma told the guests at last night's event as he and his El Gran Malo team handed out samples, each one topped with a peppermint oil-laced stirring stick. "For the holidays," Sharma mused.

And by the end of the night, the cocktail was the crowd's clear favorite, winning out over old-school favorites like Pico Mex-Mex's neon blue margarita -- hand-shaken by the Pico's team -- and a surprisingly sweet avocado margarita from TQLA.

TQLA took home second place in both the Tequila and the Tamales categories, after winning the Tamales round last year. But this time around, it was this year's host that took home the gold in that category.

After graciously clearing out its entire dining room to host last night's event, La Mexicana was richly rewarded for its efforts when it won first place in the Tamales round. The simple, straightforward Tex-Mex tamales were topped with its signature green sauce and gobbled down by guests.

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TQLA brought a twist on last year's duck tamales, which had been made with sweet potato masa, and instead tucked them into regular masa with a sweet chipotle sauce on top. Pico's lush, banana leaf-wrapped tamales reminded me that it's been too long since I've visited the terrific Tex-Mex place on Bellaire. And the chicken tinga tamales from El Gran Malo were topped with a squiggle of sour cream and thin slices of avocado for extra pizzazz.

At the end of the night -- not quite full from the samples I tried -- my boyfriend and I headed to El Gran Malo to celebrate the restaurant's win with some pork belly tacos. And although I indulged in a bitter orange margarita (and, later, some sipping tequila infused with fascinating ingredients such as wormwood, toasted almonds and lingonberries), my boyfriend grabbed an old favorite: The Champ, last year's vanilla-and-blueberry-infused Tequila & Tamales winner, which is still on the menu.

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