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Aug 31, 2007 09:48 AM

best Tamal Dulce (sweet tamale) in SF-bay area

hey guys! what are your thoughts on the BEST quality tamal dulce in SF? "nothing new-wave, nothing fancy...." ONLY hard-core traditional homemade-like tamal specialists...or the kind that's prepared by sweet sweet old hispanic grandmas and aunties. how do these following places measure up (btw, i've never tried any of them):

-La Borinqueña Mex-icatessen
-Tamale Lady (mission)
-Roosevelt Tamale Parlor

Does La Palma make tamales? in an unrelated topic, i tried La Palma's homemade potato chips and gorditas last april and they were among the freshest i've had in a while. thanks to CH.

any help would be appreciated; thanks!

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  1. Although I generally like the place in Alemany Market/Civic Center Farmers Markets (All-Star Tamales), I find the sweet tamales there much too sweet. The ones sold at Casa Lucas and La Victoria Panaderia are riddled with tough pieces from the base of the corn kernel, so avoid those, too.

    4 Replies
      1. re: bernalgirl

        All-Star Tamales is my favorite. I like sweet tamales to be sweet (I often sprinkle sugar on top) so the sweetness of the tamales at All-Star is a plus for me. Texture wise, they are definitely the best I've had (very moist).

        I've had a tamal dulce from La Palma and it was pretty good. They do make their own, and they also sell the masa if you want to make them at home. I agree with bernalgirl's assessment of the tamales at Casa Lucas and La Victoria - I've had some tough and dried out pieces too.

        Dave MP

        1. re: Dave MP

          thanks for the insight on La Palma! do they offer tamales throughout the day, or do they only sell them in the mornings? obviously i would prefer to have them at their freshest (mornings), but i've been on a tamal kick, i'll be in SF for a limited number of i'll take whatever/whenever i can get them.

          1. re: Dave MP

            I stopped in to La Palma for some savory tamales last week, they were understeamed, tough in some places, soggy in others, well-filled but too large in general. Didn't make me want to try the sweet ones, although I noticed that they now have multicolor sweet ones, the vivid orange ones looked enticing.

        2. No contest ... no contest at all ... Taqueria El Provenir in San Pablo.
          "Moist, full of pineapple, the masa deeply colored by the juice. There were plump raisins in it and a touch of pilancilo … Mexican brown sugar … yet not too sweet … just juicy pineapple goodness. It belongs in the dulce tamale hall of fame.

          My second favorite would be the rasperry tamale from the Richmond tamale lade paired with her chocolate atole.

          "It was pink and pleasant though the fruit flavor wasn't very pronouced. I like her tamales. She uses just the right amount of lard ... not to much, not too little ... so the tamale is rich and moist. "

          I'm dying to try the strawberry jalepeno tamales from Food Barn in San Pablo, but the minimum order is 20.

          I assume you aren't including elote with the sweet tamales. I consider those a different class between sweet and savory.

          4 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            wow, that sounds perfect. thanks! are the tamales at Taqueria El Provenir available throughout the day, or are they only available during breakfast/early lunch (and if it's the latter, how late can i pick one up)?

            the raspberry tamal sounds really great. much appreciated!

            1. re: inmandarin

              It sounds from another post that you will be in SF itself for a few days. In that case I would guess All-Star is your best bet.

              I like Primavera for certain tamales, but those are are the more gringo-ized ... like with squash ... yeah, i like the squash tamale.

              Anyway, you did mention a few East Bay places, so here's the rundown ...

              El Provenir makes the pineapple tamales on Saturday usually around noonish. though there is no guarantee that they are in the mood to make them that day ... so it is not a sure thing.

              Tacubaya makes a sweet tamale with raisins. I thought I liked it more than I did since it rated kind of low in my tamale crawl a while back and usually I write in detail so I can remember why I liked something or not, yet even with the description, I have no clue what I had against this tamal ... maybe the price ...

              "TACUBAYA - Tamal Dulce - $3.50 - large - sweet tamale with raisins and pecans (daily)

              Lard is not involved. The raisins were delicious and plump. There was a nice caramel syrup drizzled on it, but it would not be something I'd order again. "

              Talavera on Solano in Albany had planned to offer sweet tamales. They have new owners so i'm not sure if they have sweet tamales or how they are.

              La Borinquena only makes sweet tamales around Christmas and you need to special order them. That being said, their regular tamales are only average ... however, they make hands down the best tortillas in the Bay Area.

              El Oasis Cafe in Oakland has sweet tamales but they were described as leaden.

              Should you find yourself in Pescadero, there's the taco joint on the corner across the street from Duarte ... about their pineapple tamales ...

              "The tamal is good size and is basically pineapple-flavored masa. Bits of ground pineapple are blended into the masa. There's no filling. The masa had a good texture and the pineapple has a nice tart/sweet balance."

              "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."

            2. re: rworange

              Hmm, I stopped at Taqueria El Provenir in June, and they told me that they no longer made sweet tamales, even on weekends. Do you know if they started making them again?

              1. re: Lillian Hsu

                That's sad to hear. Given the lard, I'm pretty hit and run on tamales ... one try and then I move on. I'll stop by Saturday and see if they still sell them.

            3. Primavera was at the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers market. They don't sell sweet tamales at this time.

              7 Replies
              1. re: rworange

                that's good to know! thanks! i'm in SF right now (trying to visit the richmond tamale lady on an early saturday morning) and i was literally waiting for the richmond BART train to come in at the powell station for a half hour or more and it never came! is this common for the richmond train? tomorrow is my last chance to visit her, i hope i wont have this problem again.... (bummed out at the mac store)

                1. re: inmandarin

                  I don't take BART, but weekend transportation isn't a strong point. For the tamale lady in Richmond, its pretty much over my 8:30 am. She's definately sold out and gone by 10. If you are reading, my best suggestion would be to get over the the Alemany farmers market today and go with AllStar. Alemany is open till about 4-5.

                  1. re: inmandarin

                    Oh man, I feel really bad. I stopped by La Borinqueña to pick up some tortillas and decided to check if they make sweet tamales near the holidays. Turns out they have recently started making them every Saturday (closed Sunday). I picked some up but haven't tried them yet.

                    The owner was quite nice and said to call if you ever want some reserved. There was something about being able to order them with 24 hour notice but I was illegally parked and trying to get out.

                    They also sell bags of their chips for 99 cents in the restaurant. This was the first time I tried them and they are every bit as good as I read, thick with deep corn flavor and a nice lardiness. If you do get up there on a future trip be sure to give those a try too ... and the tortillas.

                    Seriously sorry for the incorrect info about La Borinqueña.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Yeah, these are pretty good. I like them better than the pork tamales.

                      That being said, I still rank Taqueria El Provenir number one in sweet tamales. Didn't have a chance to stop by to see if they still make them. The winning point with these is they were full of pineapple and nicely balanced with sweetness.

                      With La Borniquena the pineapple isn't as evident and seems to be used for moistness ... still they are pretty darn nice.

                      Maybe Richmond Tamale lady is third. I have to try more. The fruitiness didn't stand out and the novelty of a rasperry tamale sucked me in. It still was a good tamale ... about a third of the size of La Borniquena.

                      I don't feel quite so bad since I just checked my last menu from La Borinquena and the sweet tamales were not on there ... still ... sorry.

                      1. re: rworange

                        aww man, that's quite alright. thanks for the insight on La Borniquena.

                        unfortunately, i missed out on "all-of-the-above-mentioned" tamale joints. but that's not to say that i didn't try hehe. obviously, the richmond tamale lady idea fell through due to the BART incident. i tried searching for the mission tamale lady (corner of duboce and valencia; zeigeist storefront....from what i was told, she's around 6pm-2am?) on sunday night around 7pm and she was nowhere to be found. does anybody know the situation with her?

                        later that night, i made my way down to Taqueria San Jose and ordered their pork tamale (as well as their excellent taco chorizo and carnitas). the masa in their tamale was very unremarkable and rubbery in texture, but their pork was quite solid. perhaps it may have been better to order them early in the morning or that day. but the most impressive and notable tamale i had during my trip to SF was probably from a "mother and son" operation...selling tamales and corn/elote out of coolers on the sidewalk.... located on mission st (somewhere between 17th St and 20th St) at around 2pm. my special ladyfriend commented on their masa as being "smooth" and indeed it was! there was a (lack for a better word) stubbly, like-bits texture to their masa that was like a taste explotion. tamal pollo was what we got. the mother spoke zero english, while the son did most of the business transaction. not exactly the most friendliest kid....... but his mother sure does make excellent tamales! has anybody ever been to this?

                    2. re: inmandarin

                      There are no direct Richmond BART trains on weekends. Take the Pittsburg/Bay Point train and transfer at the indicated station (they announce it - 12th St or MacArthur) to get on the Richmond train that comes from Fremont. Hopefully you read this message in time to save you from waiting for a train that will never come!

                      1. re: Dave MP

                        thanks so much for the info!!! very good to know!

                  2. not all the time available, but the tamal dulce at Mi tierra market on san pablo in Berkeley is very good. They often don't have them but they can be ordered.

                    My favorite sweet tamales are the ones made with fresh corn not with masa, and my second ones are the pink ones with raisins made with masa. they bring back memories of the best tamal place in mexico City (still there after 80 years) called La Flor de Lys...

                    1. Any word on Sweet frijol tamales from sinaloa?