Taking on Tamales: Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Lard

A tamale is like a holiday present -- you never know what's inside the wrapping until you open it, and the likeability of what's inside is often dependent on who gave it to you. That's why we opted to check out two local favorites, one Mexican and the other Spanish-influenced, for this week's Battle of the Tamales. 

In One Corner: Ticoz Resto-Bar
5114 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix

Ticoz Unwrapped: Aww, where's the surprise?

If you're unsure what makes up a tamale, traditionally it's a corn-based dough and pulled or ground meat stuffed inside a leaf or corn husk wrapper and steamed. Gringo Tip: Take your tamale wrappers off before eating. There's nothing worse than a mouthful of dry husk to pop your tamale cherry!

​Our first stop for this week's Battle was Ticoz, an elegant Latin-influenced restaurant in the brick strip mall on 7th St. just north of Camalback. It's a great romantic date spot, with spicy red walls and leather chairs, amber mood lighting and a huge vine-covered outdoor patio bordered by wrought iron fencing. Oh, and they've got a red sangria to die for.

Ticoz touts their anti-lard stance when it comes to tamales. On the surface that sounds appealing. Lard is, after all, straight-up piggy fat. While that's no good for our waistlines, the alternative is often trans-fat laden margarine, Crisco or butter. Blech. I clung to the pipe dream that Ticoz had found a magically delicious yet fat-free alternative to lard. Uh-huh.

We ordered the classic pork tamale plate. Our dish arrived steaming hot, with small piles of masa and pulled pork in a thick brown sauce plated next to each other. Hmmm...suspicious. No tamale wrapper. No indentations from a tamale wrapper. No proof that the meat had ever been introduced to the masa before they became neighbors on the plate.

"The meat is really soft," my dining companion voiced. "It's almost buttery." Of course, that was partly due to the natural fat which had been left on the meat rather than removed before cooking. I like my meat lean, but at least Ticoz has mastered the art of cooking pork until the blubbery fat is almost dissolved. The thick, tangy sauce was like an earthier version of barbecue sauce.

The lardless masa, on the other hand, was delicious and sweet enough to be dessert. It tasted like Sweet Republic's sweet corn ice cream, with a soft texture complimented by the tougher bits of whole corn throughout. It paired well with the savory, buttery meat. Overall, a nice dish.

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