Taqueria y Mercado Los Amigos, Pescadero
Deadheading in an unexpected rainstorm down Hwy 1 last night to Santa Cruz, I glanced at my watch and figured that I might have just enough time to check out a chowhound tip for tamales in Pescadero.
The place was Taqueria y Mercado Los Amigos on the corner of Pescadero Creek and Stage Roads. This is the general store next to the gas station which also sells pan dulce and prepared Mexican foods. There are breakfast items on the menu and a selection of aguas frescas and fresh squeezed orange juice too. A handful of formica-topped tables for eating aqui. The sign on the door says they're open 6am to 10pm, although the kitchen may not be serving all those hours.
I ordered a pork tamale($1.30) and a tamale dulce ($1.00). I was careful to clarify with the counter man that I wanted the tamale "con anana", and he said, si, tamale dulce. OK. Chips and a couple salsas were available for self-service. The salsa fresca and a mild but flavorful ripe tomatoey one were very fresh tasting, and the chips were warm and ultra-crackly. So far, so good.
The pork tamale was topped with a mild fresh tomato sauce with a few flecks of red pepper flakes. The masa was the fluffy crumbly style, not my favorite, but good for the genre. The pork was generous in quantity, lean and unadorned. Certainly good but not worth a special trip for.
The tamale dulce (which I took two bites of then wrapped the remainder to go) was fragrant with the aroma of sweet pineapple and the masa had some crispy browned marks where the juice had carmelized. But none of the pineapple chunks inside that I was expecting. This was a little on the dry side without any sauce and I found myself wishing for a spot of crema mexicana. Has anyone else had these babies? Did I get the real deal?
My little detour took 25 minutes from the time I exited the highway, ordered, ate and returned to Hwy 1.
I see the subject of pineapple tamales has come up again -- it was being discussed when I first started lurking here.
Intrigued by the idea of a pineapple tamale, I kept my eyes out, and to my surprise soon spotted them: Donna's tamales (a cart at both the Jack London Square Sunday and Justin Herman Plaza Tuesday farmers' markets, and presumably others) had them. I haven't tried them though.
Also, I thought this might be the "Nanna's" tamales that someone else was looking for.
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Melanie Wong
I haven't tried Donna's -- there are always so many choices vying for my attention. They seem to offer a wide range of both traditional and non-traditional choices.
I work near JHP and hit the market almost every week. I suppose in the name of chowhound research I could make the sacrifice!
re: Ruth Lafler
I promised a report on Donna's tamales, so I went by her stand at Justin Herman Plaza farmer's market Tuesday.
They sell both ready to eat and prepackaged tamales there. They didn't have pineapple on the menu, so I asked. The woman who is apparently Donna said that she hasn't been making them, that she's been making dulce tamales with plaintains instead (which they were out of). When I said someone I knew had been raving about pineapple tamales, she said something vague about maybe she'd make some, or maybe she'd make some with pineapples and plaintains.
As a dutiful chowhound researcher, I bought a couple of different types of tamales anyway. These are definitely not traditional tamales. All the varieties are vegetarian, one or two even vegan (I'm going to refrain from making disparaging remarks about vegans, because I know a couple of nice ones, but really, what a waste!).
I bought a ready to eat "enchamale" i.e, a tamale with enchilada-like flavors (red sauce, black olives, cheese). I had low expectations from this heretical, Californicated tamale, and was pleasantly surprised. I'm not a tamale maven [disclaimer], but I thought the masa was about perfect: just the right balance between chewy and fluffy, not at all crumbly and definitely not leaden. It appeared the masa had been patted out into a thick tortilla and wrapped around the filling -- I think this was part of the "enchamale" concept, because the other variety I tried was more traditionally freeform.
I bought a package of two cheese chile corn tamales to take home and just had one for lunch. Again, I really enjoyed the texture of the masa, even after being abused by having been in and out of the refrigerator and carried around for a couple of days, and the filling was made of good quality ingredients (the white cheddar and the corn the masa was made from were organic).
The packaged tamales were $3.50 for a package of two, and are available at various independent grocers and places like Whole Foods.