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Are there great tamales in the Triangle?

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As I was posting on another thread, it occurred to me that this subject deserves a thread of its own:

Has anyone found a great tamaleria around here? For me, the perfect tamal should come out piping hot, served directly from the steamer. The dough should be light and fluffy, somewhere between a corn pudding and a corn cake texture. The filling should be flavorful, with some heat to it. The whole thing should be moist and succulent. Finally, if there were anyplace around here that makes tamales oaxaqueños (tamales wrapped in banana leaves with mole negro), that would be a major bonus.

To me, nothing beats a great tamal. If anyone has found a good source around here, I'd love to hear about it.

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  1. They aren't tamales oaxaqueños, but you should probably check out the nacatamales at Xiloa on 9th Street. They're big & square & steamed in banana leaves; they're super-moist and the filling is usually meat plus rice/potatoes, maybe some other veggies, and raisins. The filling combination might throw you, or at least not qualify for exactly what you're looking for, but in terms of the consistency & flavor of the masa, they're closer than anything else I've had around here.

    1. You mean, besides the ones that one of my prep cooks made for the company Xmas party? ('cause they were just as you described down to the banana leaves and mole) Sorry, had to rub it in.

      Once again, I thought the tamales at Superior were very good if not spectacular. They were too hot to eat when I got them so they qualify in that department.

      I've also tried them at Miss Tortilla on 98 but didn't like them as much.

      4 Replies
      1. re: detlefchef

        Ooooh, Detlefchef, that was almost kinda mean, or are you planning on inviting Durhamois to one of your little in-house bashes? I think a little penance is in order. Hey, I have an idea - what about a little after-hours Chowhound party - we'll all bring can't find in the Triangle specialties. You can bring the Tamales. Whaddya say?

        1. re: suse

          That sounds like it would be fun. Perhaps after the holidays.

        2. re: detlefchef

          Does Superior have the tamales everyday or only on special days?

          1. re: Jeanne

            Honestly, I have no idea. I was there on a Saturday morning when I saw them so that, at least, is a good bet.

        3. i'm not in your neck of the woods, but if you're ever in the asheville area, i suggest trying the tamales at tomato cocina. they are very similar to what you're describing, less the heat (but that could just be my taste buds as what most consider "hot" is at best medium, and usually mild, to me).

          1. I had some tamales tonight from the taco truck in the Fitch Lumber parking lot (across from the Teeter in Carrboro). While I wouldn't label them outstanding, they *were* better than some others I've had around the Triangle (though I haven't had the ones at Superior, so I can't compare). The masa was moist, light and fluffy. The ratio of filling:masa was 1:1 or better, unlike some I've had where you get a tiny pinky-finger of filling surrounded by a 2" tube of masa. The filling was pork in a red chile sauce, and while there wasn't much heat, there was a nice mix of pork & chile flavor.

            The tacos were kinda flavorless, and the lengua was chewy, but I'd definitely go back for the tamales. Then again, I live over here; I don't know that I'd recommend making the drive just for them.

            If you do plan to be over this way, the truck is there from 6pm to midnight Tue-Thu. I don't know where they are the rest of the week.

            1. Mercado Superior has tamales every day. A friend of mine got a dozen to go on Saturday.

              1. Just a quick followup: we went to Superior last weekend & had one of each of the three tamales available -- red pork, green chicken, and some kind of cheese & pepper concoction. All three more or less fit the standard triangle tamale profile: dense, fairly dry, unfavorable proportioning of masa to filling. I won't call them a disappointment, because (a) I've come to expect this of tamales around here, and (b) I was already full of tasty pastor tacos.

                The one thing they did have in their favor was the intensity of the red chile flavor, although they were so dried out that it was kind of like eating bites of chile paste, which wasn't really all that appealing aesthetically. But it showed promise in that area.

                So then yesterday we went to Miranda's. Highlight of the trip for me was the cabeza de res, which was prepared barbacoa-style, with the fluorescent red grease running all down my hands. There were tamales de pollo listed on the colored-paper "specials" board, so we ordered one. Lo & behold, when the foil was removed, there was a banana leaf, and inside was the moistest, creamiest masa I've had in a tamale in the triangle. The proportions of masa to filling were pretty good. The chicken was in red sauce, not green, and wasn't nearly as intensely chile-flavored as I would've hoped, but overall that was a damn fine tamale, and I'm going to have to go back in search of its pork siblings.

                3 Replies
                1. re: rossgrady

                  Did the tamales at Superior yesterday with a friend who is on a tamale hunt. He has lived and worked in Mexico, albeit briefly, but his lack of comment on the tamales was eloquent in and of itself. Our experience pretty much echoed rossgrady's so there's no need to repeat it.

                  I had been thinking of comparing Superior's tamales to El Mandado but it sounds as if Miranda's has them both beat. I won't say that El Mandado's tamales are inherently better, but they have been a lot moister than Superior's and the fillings are more delicately seasoned. The proportion of masa to filling is about the same.

                  So where is Miranda's? It sounds like someplace I'd like to try.

                  1. re: rockycat

                    It's the "cow store" on Chapel Hill Road just north of that weird Cornwallis/15-501 intersection (which puts it about a block from Guglhupf/Fosters and about 2 blocks from the Q Shack/Pao Lim/Nana's) -- if you're on 15-501 business you gotta figure out how to get onto the overpass there at the Hardee's & then head one block north & look for the cow.

                    http://www.chowhound.com/search/std?q...

                    In perfect Durham high/low fashion, it's directly across the street from Four Square.

                  2. re: rossgrady

                    Miranda's also has the best horchata in the Triangle.

                  3. To make things more complicated, the "cow store" is no longer called "Miranda's". Miranda and family sold it a while back to the folks who took over the small tienda housed in the same lot. I cannot remember the new name exactly -- it is something like "La Vaquero" but that's not quite it. If you go looking for the mind image of "Miranda's" you won't find it. If you look for the big cow on the small building directly across the street from Four Square, you will find it.

                    The "new" owners (it's been several months now) are very nice and as far as I can tell serve up great food. We live about a 2 minute drive from there and get take out perhaps 2X per month. I'll have to try the tamales -- they didn't have them for the longest time so it is good to hear they are back.

                    1. I just got some chicken tamales from the taco cow on Chapel Hill St., and they were pretty darn good. They were wrapped in banana leaves, Oaxacan-style (no black mole though). The tamal dough was very light, fluffy, and super-moist. The filling was nothing special, but they dough was enough to make them my favorite tamales in town so far.

                      1. In the Gourmet magazine article by Colman Andrews he said that El Paraiso on S. Alston in Durham is run by Oaxacans and has excellent tamales, although they're not listed on the menu. He liked the barbacoa as well. Still need to get over there to check it out.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PeterB

                          El Paraiso is a standout Mexican place. The tamales are excellent. Everything I've had there has been tasty. If you haven't been, check it out.

                        2. On Capital Blvd in Raleigh there is a BP station with a lunch cafe in the back. It is across the street from the plaza where the Chuckie Cheese. Anyway, on weekends they have tamales AND posole. I haven't tried the tamales, but all the other stuff is really good.