Jesse Torres

Despite looming fears of freezing rain and terrible cold, nearly 15,000 brave San Antonians dared the wintry weather to sample tamales from 34 local venders.

The Pearl delivered on its promise of a “Mexican streetscape full of the sounds, sights and tastes of the holiday season,” as the stage for its fourth annual Tamales! Holiday Festival.

“That we could have such an amazing turnout despite the cold says a lot about San Antonians love of tamales,” says Tamales! Culinary Director Shelley Grieshaber.

It’s no surprise that we San Antonians wouldn’t let a little freezing weather get between us and our beloved tamales. After all, we dedicated a whole festival to them and each year it just gets bigger and better.

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Tamales of every kind were represented and ranged in price from $1 to $5 (admission to the event was free). There were classic staples made with chicken, pork and bean, and innovative combos like the poblano and Muenster cheese entry, and even vegetarian vegan options. The seemingly endless variety of tamales were prepared by everyone from seasoned professional chefs to fresh culinary students.

Smoked pork hangs over the open flame at the NAO outdoor grill during Tamales! Holiday Festival 2013 at the Historic Pearl Brewery. Photo by Jesse Torres.
Smoked pork hangs over the open flame at the NAO outdoor grill during Tamales! Holiday Festival 2013 at the Historic Pearl Brewery. Photo by Jesse Torres.

And while tamales were the namesake standout, many chefs like Jeff Balfour, previously of Citrus and soon to be opening a new restaurant at the future Pearl Brewery Hotel, instead opted to feature a beer cheese-stuffed papusa with crisp pork cracklings, pickled cabbage and green salsa—a definite crowd favorite.

Perennial standouts like Adelita, La Fogata, and Teka Molina served up their usual crowd-pleasers, attracting long lines of patient buyers all afternoon until they sold out.

Vendor Delicious Tamales, decided to differentiate themselves from the traditional competition by offering what they called an “Atomic Tamale” made with one of the hottest chilis available, the ghost pepper. Guests were asked to sign a waiver of liability, were handed a small water bottle and even given a sticker validating the experience by the owner herself, Valerie Gonzalez.

“If that don’t warm up the people, I don’t know what will,” laughed Gonzalez as she handed an attendee a large sign that read, “I survived the Atomic Tamale” to pose for a picture after eating one of the red-hot tamales.

Attendees in need of something to wash down the spice found vendors selling hot chocolate, warm apple cider, and even Avena, a warm oatmeal and chocolate drink from La Gloria Ice House.

Tamales! Holiday Festival 201 at the Historic Pearl Brewery. Photo by Jesse Torres.
Tamale! Holiday Festival guests enjoy tamales and drinks under one of the many portable heaters. Heated tents were also strategically placed around the Pearl to provide relief from the cold. Photo by Jesse Torres.

“It may have been a cold day,” said attendee Maribel Saenz, who came up from McAllen for the weekend, “but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the tamales. After you’ve had a couple of spicy ones, you don’t feel the cold at all.”

Jesse Torres is a culinary arts student at The Culinary Institute of America, Air Transportation Specialist in the US Air Force Reserves and garde manger at Lüke Restaurant. He enjoys spending lots of time with his two bichons, mixing drinks, weightlifting, biking, reading and contributing to San Antonio’s Renaissance. Follow him on Twitter @jessejamz or contact him at

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