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Rosario’s Sweeps Tamalada Throw-Down at the Spire

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Mike Behrend of Green Vegetarian plates a tamale.

Lots of tamale lovers had their fill at the Tamalada Throw-Down Friday night at the Spire on Center Street near St. Paul Square.

When the corn husks (or in some cases banana leaves) were cleared away and all the tamales tasted, Lisa Wong and her crew at Rosario’s Mexican Cafe y Cantina pulled off top wins in every category of the unofficial Fiesta event — traditional, contemporary and dessert.

All of the chefs contributed to the contest with generous helpings of skill and creativity.

Tamales were filled with crawfish, sweet potatoes, fresh and dried fruit, mole, barbacoa, traditional shredded beef and pork. The most unusual tamale of the evening was one that left behind even the traditional corn masa. Chef Mario Perez and his team from the San Antonio Food Bank won a second prize for a dessert tamale made with cooked white rice, with a flavor reminiscent of rice pudding or sticky rice.

Lisa Wong, left, and her assistant from Rosario's accept an award from Valerie Gonzalez of Delicious Tamales and Mike Bolner of Bolner's Fiesta Spices.

Tasters roamed up and down, past the two rows of chafing dishes spilling forth tempting flavors. They looking for their favorites among the dozens of tamales, while judges made their choices.

One tamale that excited much comment was from Mike’s in the Village in Bulverde. It was stuffed with fresh crawfish and presented to the judges with a whole crustacean perched atop the dish.  Chicken mole tamales, by RK Group chef Charles Large, came bathed in a smoothly balanced mole sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds.  A barbacoa tamale from Picante Grill was steamed in banana leaves, giving it a smooth, translucent quality to the masa.

This was the third year for the Tamalada Throw-Down, sponsored by Delicious Tamales, the San Antonio Restaurant Association and Bolner’s Fiesta Products, Inc. A portion of the money collected at the event will go toward academic and culinary scholarships.

Charles Large of the RK Group plates a chicken mole tamale.

Rosario’s chef/owner Lisa Wong described the road to her and her crew’s winning tamales as being one of testing and discarding, retesting and tasting again.  “I knew with the sweet tamale we couldn’t make it too sweet, and it had to have fresh pineapple instead of canned,” she said after the competition. The dessert-style tamale had a mildly sweet, slightly buttery flavored masa, with chopped fresh pineapple and other fruit. Part of the inspiration for this winner was fruit empanadas, with crema, she said.

Other competing chefs were Kris Martinez of Aldaco’s at Sunset Station, Cindy Olivarez at Flour Power Cafe and Mike Behrend at Green Vegetarian Cuisine.

SavorSA writers John Griffin and I were judges, along with Patricia Sharpe, food editor of Texas Monthly, Ron Bechtol, food, wine and spirits writer for the San Antonio Current, Chris Dunn, freelance food writer, and Tanji Patton, founder of

Results of this year’s Tamalada Throw-Down follow:

The crawfish tamale from Mike's in the Village

Traditional tamale:

  1. Rosario’s
  2. The RK Group
  3. Green Vegetarian Cuisine

Contemporary tamale:

  1. Rosario’s
  2. San Antonio Food Bank
  3. (tie) Aldaco’s-Sunset Station and Green Vegetarian Cuisine

Flor Maria Pozo of Picante Grill serves her tamales.

Dessert tamale:

  1. Rosario’s
  2. San Antonio Food Bank
  3. Flour Power Cafe
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