Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Apr 15, 2007 12:14 PM

Looking for Tamales and Tapas in SF

I'm going to a family reunion in SF will be there for two weekends 20th - 29th. I want to check out Tamales and Tapas. Last time I was there I had some recommendations for both but never had a chance to get away long enough to try anything on my own, hence the two weekend stint this time. Any ideas? recommendations?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The pork tamales at the Primavera stand at the Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers market are the best I've had. So far as I know, they're sold only at that market. At the Berkeley farmers market stand and in grocery stores they have only the vegetarian ones, which are also good.

    Some recent tamale threads / posts:

    Note that Tamal has closed. I didn't think much of their tamales.

    11 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I've actually tried Primavera and can vouch for how delicious they are - especially the vegetarian ones. I never believed anyone could make a good vegetarian tamal. I go up to SF often and have also tried El Huarache Loco at the Alemany Market. They make, of course, Huaraches -- very few people make this delicious uncommon mexican dish. Definitely stop by the Alemany market MM. But do check out Robert's suggestion at the Ferry Plaza - Primavera is definitely worth trying.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Wow...I have to disagree with all of these endorsements of the Primavera tamales: hubby and I tried both the pork and a vegetarian/cheese tamale a few weeks ago and were very disappointed. In fact, we swore we'd never go again (this is not my first time trying Primavera, I've also been disappointed in their chilaquiles). I thought about posting, but decided I didn't want to be so negative, since part of the issue was their service. However, after seeing all these positive reports, I feel compelled to give another view..

          First problem: getting our order: The tamales aren't cheap: we got them as part of plate, two to an order (I think with beans and rice but to be honest the sides must have been forgettable, because I don't remember them), and cost for a tamale plate each was about $16 to $18 or so. Anyway, hubby ordered and paid, I went to sit at one of the nearby tables, and after a while our name was called: and hubby was handed only one tamale plate. He pointed out one plate was missing, counter server just looked at him blankly. He repeated that half the order was missing, she continued to just look at him ...after about three repeats, the guy in charge (manager/owner?) came over, looked at her order slip, explained to her (in English, which she spoke, this was not a language issue) what hubby had said, and that hubby was in fact correct,. and asked her to go get the other plate. Her response: she went to the back of the stand and proceed to make a call on her cell phone!!!

          Hubby eventually got the guy in charge to get the other plate. However, he *never* got an apology for the wrong order nor for the lack of responsiveness of the server. (who continued to talk on the cell phone for most of this time!) Fairly inexcusable under the circumstances.

          He wasn't sure how much hot sauce I wanted so he asked if he could have a small container of sauce to take over to the table. Guy in charge looked annoyed, sighed loudly, and gave him a small stryrofoam cup...

          I noticed he wasn't there when we went back by an hour later during our shopping: I wondered if he is the owner's husband and didn't want to be there himself(?)

          but about the tamales: Well to start with, my vegetarian plate had gotten cold by the time hubby got the second order. (naturally)... There was cheese in it, the cheese was literally congealed into one cold, lumpy disgusting mess. If the service hadn't been so bad, I probably woul have taken it back. The pork tamales just didn't have a lot of flavor, but at least we finished that one.

          All this for almost $20! That's what I get for going to FB Farmer's Market instead of Alemany. Next time, I will stick to the much better All-Star Tamales at the Alemany farmer's market....

          1. re: susancinsf

            susancinsf, I'm sorry that you had that experience, but it could have been any number of things. Even the best establishment has an off day. I've tried Primavera several times and each time was not disappointed. Infact, I am impressed each time because I was brought up on good, traditional tamales and I guess I expect to be disappointed. Primavera is not a traditional tamale - I guess I keep waiting for the shoe to drop (or metate in this case) but it hasn't and each Primavera tamale I have tried stands up against, and hold its own, any of the best traditional tamales, Crowded and hectic yes. Have been to that market on several different occasions and it's been hectic at every stand throughout the market. Non of this excuses the cell phone user/server thing, but that shouldn't be confused with taste of the food. The beauty is that we all have a different standard and it's okay. I, for instance, don't care for the All-Star: dry, skimpy, odd textured; but they are consistent: each time they were consistently below par. Yet they have a loyal following because from what I understand, they've been at that market a while. Any tamale needs to be eaten quickly and while warm, or the filling becomes less than ideal - it is one food that must be eaten hot to warm. I will go again and again to Primavera every chance I get when I'm in San Francisco.

            1. re: tiamarty

              susancinsf, your experience sounds awful. But also sounds like a service issue, not a good day to decide if the tamales are any good.

              I can't think of a GREAT commerical source. Primavera are good. They use butter as the fat which is odd but delicious. I think most other vendors use crisco, margarine or those nasty bricks of lard. You really need to use fresh rendered lard for flavor, texture and health issues and an ideal tamal would use masa, not a dough made from masa harina. I wonder what Primavera uses.

              A really good one should stand on it's own without any filling, although the filling is important.

              And for the record, it's not the end of the world but it's one tamal, two or more tamales. There's no such word as tamale and if you see it, it's a pretty good sign you're not eating a good one!

              1. re: Earl Grey

                yes, I know it is one tamal, but that isn't how a lot of folks use it in casual English...but as for the Primavera tamales, it wasn't just the service. Ok, first of all, the delay in getting the second plate of tamales was significant, but NOT long enough that the cheese should have been totally congealed! It was literally all in one lump! How long does that take to happen if they are hot?: it wasn't a particularly cold morning, so they were probably lukewarm to begin with, or even cold, not freshly made and not fully reheated...(and I do agree they are best warm, though personally I think they are also taste fine if not warm, when properly made.)

                and secondly, they just didn't taste that great. You may like the masa because they use butter, but to me it just falls apart (which is not the same as being moist, in my opinion, it still was rather dry, just not substantial enough). And, as I said, not a lot of flavor. The All-Star tamales are more flavorful and taste multi dimensional to me.

                I will excuse bad service and go to a place again if the food is worth it. this is now my third or so try of various offerings at Primavera, and it just isn't worth it, IMO.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  >>yes, I know it is one tamal, but that isn't how a lot of folks use it in casual English...<<

                  Sorry, I wasn't singling you out. But it seems if were discussing the finer points and nuances of tamales it needs to be pointed out.

                2. re: Earl Grey

                  Primavera uses fresh masa, which they also sell.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    They used to use Maseca for their commercial tortillas. Not the ones you buy at the ferry building, but the ones in plastic that you see in grocery stores.

                  2. re: Earl Grey

                    "Tamale" is the English translation of "tamal."

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thanks for the topic links Robert - great stuff. I've done some homework, checked out the tamale tasting event that's happening at fort mason - that is definitely going into my plans. One of the threads mentions a yucatan tamale maker in healdsburg. Reading the description of his tamales made me hungry (and it's not lunchtime yet!) looks like he'll be at this Taste of tamales by the bay event. Thanks Robert.

              3. I prefer the branch of Cesar on Piedmont in Oakland. Longer menu, quieter.

                Bocadillos in SF also has first-rate tapas.

                Esperpento is not quite as good but much cheaper.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Thanks Robert. I love the Bocadillo menu. It looks like a place I can get comfortable in. Do you know anything about Tacubaya for tamales? Have heard good things about them.

                  1. re: martasiete

                    I've had tamales from Tacubaya and found them really tasty. The pineapple, desert one was a little too runny for my taste, but it had good flavor. Well worth the try out.

                2. I'm always on the lookout for good tamales and yesterday I saw a poster in the window of Molly Stone (formerly Tower Market) about a tamale tasting festival at Fort Mason next Sunday. They're supposed to have several tamale makers there giving tastes and a bunch of other stuff going on. Looks like fun. I'm going.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: BGQuilter

                    Looks like a nice fundraising event, tix are $75pp to benefit the Benchmark Institute:

                    1. re: bernalgirl

                      Hey BG - I'm planning to make it up to this tamale thing. I found out about it from my SF friend. She must have seen the same posters, and am seriously planning to make it. Bernalgirl or BGQuilter, you have tell us what you find - I'm definitely going to go to this.

                      Anyone else gonna check it out?

                      1. re: tiamarty

                        I won't be paying $190 to taste tamales (w or w/o a babysitter), even for a good cause. Not to say no one else should, though.

                        However, I also agree that Primavera does an amazingly good veg tamale, the masa is flavorful and tender. I also really like the tamale vendor at the Alemany and Wednesday Civic Center (Heart of the City?) markets, All American.

                        I am not a fan of the take-away tamales at La Palma, Casa Lucas or La Victoria in the Mission.

                        1. re: bernalgirl

                          I've been meaning to try Roosevelt Tamale Parlor on 24th for a while; how does it stack up with the above?

                          1. re: readingstand

                            The owner of Primavera consulted on their makeover. Recent reports:


                      2. re: bernalgirl

                        I haven't had a chance to follow up or report back on this event, but did anyone else make it? ( I found this link from Rancho Gordo about the event


                        I was worried my plan would be literally rained on. It rained most of the days I was up there but I had a chance to go to this event, and stayed there for quite a while. It was a lot of fun. After several days of rain, as a visitor to SF for the week, I was disappointed that I was getting so much rain - but that day, the gods must have meant for me to get what I was looking for - good tamales. It was a beautiful day at a beautiful location; the Fort Mason marina is such a wonderful piece of land and well used. I envy San Franciscans for it!

                        The event had a collection of really delicious and different tamale vendors. I even got to taste tamales from a vendor known to everyone as The Tamale Queen (her tamales were voted People's Choice) who came from Oakland. I wasn't disappointed with the tamales from Chef Mateo - he uses locally grown, and raised, organic products to make his Yucatan style tamales. I was impressed with the caliber of the judges too. I suppose if I were going to have my food judged, I'd want someone who knows about food to judge it. They had two chefs (executive chefs, one from the Culinary Academy and another from Ramekins) and a third chef who with his own catering business - all three specialize in Mexican and Latin American foods, flavors and regions, so they know their stuff. Two prizes were awarded by the judges: best new world style tamales, which was awarded to Chef Granados' for his use of new world ingredients in a traditional Yucatan style Cochinita Pibil tamal, and the other went to Veronica Salazar, of El Huarache Loco, for her traditional Mole tamales. All the food and wine was delicious. I was not disappointed with Ceja Vineyard wines. If any of you haven't tried them, you ought to visit them in the Carneros region. Pedro Ceja was on hand to talk about the Ceja wines. He is a very warm and knowledgeable. Their wines paired beautifully with the tamales there to taste. Anyone close enough to the Napa/Sonoma area should visit them (another thing I envy San Franciscans for - their proximity to the wine region). Another vendor I enjoyed was Steve Sandos of Rancho Gordo. He was a perfect match for this event! As I understood it, he also goes to the Ferry Plaza Building (which I visited while in SF - yes, Envy!) He has some of the most delicious beans - not just any beans, but Heirloom beans. What's the diff? Try them! You'll taste and feel the difference immediately. I absolutely LOVE beans and anyone who is as knowledgeable and passionate about beans is my kind of guy! He had some of the best beans I've had to taste, which I later mixed with the salsa from a vendor there who makes a delicious salsa called Mrs. A's Salsa Buena - it was delicious with a bit of a smoky taste - not your typical salsa and very delicious. Mind you, everything was just to taste, but with everything there to taste, I really got to make a meal out of it all. I was so impressed with the Rancho Gordo beans that I visited his website to see what else he has and this guy is a busy man! Anyway, take a look at website and what he had to say about the event and his experience


                        The artists were fantastic, the music was great - and the day was beautiful. What more can a visitor, or anyone for that matter, ask for. Ya'll in San Francisco have a gem of an event with this Taste of Tamales by the Bay. I can't wait to see what they do next year - I would definitely do this again!

                        Did anyone else go? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

                          1. re: martasiete

                            Didn't make it, but thanks a bunch for the report, marta!

                            Here's a link to my report from a couple years back with a photo of Mateo Granados Yucatan-style tamales,

                            Kind of interesting that he'd be awarded for using "new world" ingredients, aren't all tamales from the new world? Also, I think he'd describe his tamales as going back to the traditional Yucatan style with ingredients as good and natural as at home. The cheese used from Bodega goat cheese is Peruvian style, for example.

                      3. Does anybody make tamales flavored with avocado leaves? I used to get that somewhere, I think maybe Cafe Marimba.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I can't even imagine what that would taste like. Isn't the avocado leaf bitter? This is new to me. I've never seen or heard of anything like this in ELA or any part of LA - I'll have to check around. I love avocados, and love them warm when they're in my burritos and other dishes - but never thought of them, or the leaf, as a tamal ingredient.

                          1. re: martasiete

                            They have an anis flavor but you need a specific type. The haas leaves don't cut it.

                            1. re: Earl Grey

                              Right. You can find dried or frozen leaves at some Mexican markets.

                        2. Here's what SF Chronicle's wrote about the event that will feature a collection of tamale vendors take a look

                          I haven't found anything recent about Tapas martasiete but Robert has some good threads listed for that.