Richmond - La Bamba – Beyond pupusas ... cream of shrimp soup & fried corn tamales
The taco on a first La Bamba visit about a year ago didn’t impress.
It was a good taco, but there were better in the area. Last week I was about to default to a McDonald’s burger for lunch, thought better of it, and decided it was time to try the La Bamba pupusa.
This was a soft pupusa oozing with good cheese and pieces of green loroco that I could see, but not taste. They do have some of the best curtido with carrot, cabbage and strongly tasting of the oregano. It was properly wilty, but still had lots of crunch.
The menu listed fried corn tamales which seemed interesting enough for another visit ... or two ... needed to try the Salvadorian pork tamale, too.
On one of those visits the soup at another table served with fat, thick Salvadoran tortillas caught my eye. In the East Bay Express review link below, the tortillas are called ‘heartbreakingly good”.
I’d say this describes the cream of shrimp soup or sopa de camaron. The only person on the web that wrote about this soup said something about it being as good as something from Chez Panise. Well, gotta try that, right?
Menu description: bell pepper, onions, tomatoes, red wine, sour cream, butter and egg.
Verdict: I’m a huge fan of this Salvadoran soup.
It is made to order with the soup base, shrimp, and veggies cooking about 10 minutes. Then the sour cream (probably crema) is added and all is cooked a bit more. A whole egg gets broken into the soup during the last five minutes of cooking.
Like any rich, cream-based seafood stew, golden butter outlined the edges of the bowl, the broth rich with the flavor of shrimp and tomato.
A bowl of yellow rice comes with it and with a squeeze of lime, this is bliss.
There are six large shrimp with the shells attached. They are not the type of shells that can be eaten. I don’t know the etiquette here, but I fished the shrimp out, let them cool a bit, shelled them and returned them to the soup.
Not quite Chez Panise quality, these were supermarket quality veggies and shrimp. It made me wonder though how truly exquisite this dish would be handled by a top restaurant with top ingredients because this was uber-delicious with its humbler origin.
All three aqua frescas were tried over multiple visits, the only one I didn’t like was the horchata which had too much clove for my taste and a little too much rice giving it a grittiness. The tamarind was quite good and tangy. The Jamaica was deeply flavored and smoky. Neither was too sweet.
The moist pork tamale was filled with huge chunks of tender pork and a sliver of mild pepper It was wrapped in paper rather than banana leaves but had two small pieces of leaves at the bottom for flavor. Melanie has a good description of the chicken tamale at the Mountain View location that applies to Richmond location.
The fried corn tamales were very sweet, about the size of a McDonald fried pie. The outside was browned and there was lots of corn flavor. It came with crema and some of the best refried beans I’ve ever had. I’m not a fan, but these beans made me see possibilities. Smooth and luxurious and velvety, they weren’t over salted or soupy and full of flavor. It seems whole beans can be ordered as well.
La Bamba slightly (really slightly) upgraded since my first visit. Gone is the menu board on the wall, replaced by mirror palm trees.
Watching the kitchen is fun with someone always chopping up huge pieces of meat, patting out pupusas, assembling orders. Curtido is scooped out of a big plastic bucket. Pots bubble on the grill. The making of my soup was like a choreographed dance with about five people involved. Whoever was nearest would check the pot and stir or add something.
Has any one had any of the other dishes here beside tamales, tacos, burritos and pupusas?
The beefsteak and chicken dishes with onions looked good. Has anyone tried the costillas – grilled beef ribs marinated in salt, black pepper and bbq sauce?
Dr. Biggles who posts on Chowhound occasionally, has some pictures of one of the dishes on his blog.
Taqueria La Bamba
12345 San Pablo Ave.
Richmond, CA 94805
Mon. – Thrus: 11:00 a.m. -p.m.
Fri-Sat: 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m
Sun: 10:00 a.m. - 8:30 p.m
La Bamba, Richmond – report
La Bamba Chicken Tamale
More Tamale talk
Excellent report on La Bamba. Back when I worked in Mountain View several years ago, my lunch crew tried damn near everything on that menu, but unfortunately I can't remember what was good. I stuck to the pupusas and the occasional carnitas taco. Finding out about the Richmond location was one of my greatest food discoveries since moving to Berkeley.
The description of the kitchen routine is right on. The staff have always been friendly and, even when the restaurant is packed, you can always eat at the clean, empty outdoor tables in front of the nearby KFC (with the lovely roar of nearby San Pablo Ave traffic).
Alrighty then, I stopped by today and ordered up a dumb regular carne asada burrito. I was in a hurry and wasn't going to have time to enjoy my meal. The burrito came out in about 10 minutes, that was fine. I have to say though that must have been one of the top 5 regular burritos I've ever had. The salsa was very fresh and crisp in texture and flavor. The dice were all neat squares. The blend of the rice, beans, meat & salsa was perfect for each. The meat was juicy and had a nice gravy along with. Plus the tortilla must have been wrapped by a steam roller cause the sucker was tight and held firm all the way to the bottom. And what was waiting at the bottom? Just a bit of the burrito liquor, that's what. It made the last bite a real treat.
How to improve? Grill the tortilla first. But other than that it was a solid performer and I'd get another. Good stuff.
Good to hear. I guess you can ask them to grill it. I don't eat enough burritos to know if places will grill the tortilla on request.
I'm fond of La Bamba right now. Guess it proves you can't judge a place on one thing like that taco. Should have listened to you earlier about La Bamba
I have had a handful of their dinner plates (my favorite to order at any restaurant). For the most part they've been on solid ground and I LOVE their rice & beans. Flavorful, juicy and not too darned salty or flavorless.
The reason I don't go there anymore is the delivery time. This is over 3 years, I haven't been in a year. Maybe recently the times have improved. I've eaten there since maybe 1991.
The late plates are: 2 carnitas tacos, nothing else. These took 35 minutes with 5 people cooking, on many visits. 1 carne asada taco was 35 minutes. 2 dinner plates on 3 occasions, over 45 minutes with about the same in the kitchen. My lunch guest and I just sit back and watch how hard everyone is chopping, grilling and taking care of business. Yet, so little comes out.
Is it time to go back? Can they deliver 1 taco in less than 30 minutes? I'm more than willing to try again, the food is that good.
That is the funniest and truest statement. What kills me is that five people put together a single dish without communicating. It's not like someone says "watch the soup for me". No, it is like each dish is owned by the entire kitchen and whoever is nearest when the next step needs to be done, does it.
The only thing that took a long time was the soup ... but I eat at off hours when few people are around, today being the exception of going at prime lunch time. I watched on one visit while three people went off to get one plastic pail of chickens.
You can always call in the order.