From the moment I saw Chef Tommy Birdwell’s tamales plated and handed over to eager guests, I knew he’d brought his A-game to last Thursday night’s Tequila & Tamales event at Xuco Xicana. Each corn husk had been tied and butterflied open with a flourish, showcasing the rust-colored tamales inside.
At first glance, I thought the deep-orange hue came from something like an achiote pork filling, but I was wrong. Birdwell’s twist on the traditional tamale went further than that: Instead of corn masa, he’d made a sweet potato masa that hid a filling of rich, fatty duck.
So it was no surprise that evening, as we tallied nearly all 200 votes, that Birdwell’s tamales from his restaurant, TQLA, had come out in first place. The crowd cheered loudly, claps and whoops reflecting the wide margin of votes cast for the nuevo Southwestern/Tex-Mex joint on Washington.