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Berkeley: Casa Latina - nice nacatamales - tamal-rific

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Nacatamales are the Nicaraguan tamal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nacatamal

This had the wonderful moist masa of Central America that was absolutely perfect. Not dry like Mexican, but not overly moist or soupy like some.

These are the large tamales, about the size of a dinner plate. A nice touch about the paper plate at Casa Latina was it had a pretty flower pattern.

There were generous pieces of pork in mildly spice sauce, a green olive, sliced potatoes, slices of green pepper, a chile, a little rice, a raisin, and mint leaves.

The first time I had rice in a tamal was in Costa Rica. There is not a lot of rice, maybe a teaspoon of it.

The plantain wrapped nacatamal is wrapped in wax paper.

Casa Latino makes a healtier version of Latino food using olive oil instead of lard and some organic ingredients.

I've never had a nacatamal before. However, having returned from a year in Guatemala, a country of outstanding tamales, this is up there with the best I had in that country.

My regret from my brief stay in Nicaragua was not being able to track down a nacatamal. It was either the wrong day or wrong time.

Has there been an ownership change at the Casa Latina restaurants. I tried to ask, but didn't get a clear answer. My Guatemalan accent must have confused them (sarcasm). However, they said the owner is Nicaraguan. I think that is a change. Montero's has a name change and different menu as well.

Berkeley seems to be allowing sign boards for businesses in the median strip of streets. This is distracting and unsafe, IMO. However, that's how I saw the nacatamal sign.

It was a little over $5, very filling and given the quality ingredients, well worth the price. Pick up a white roll so you can mop up the masa from the plantain leaf.

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Casa Latina
1805 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA

 
 
 
 
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  1. How minty was the nacatamal?

    Berkeley doesn't allow signboards except on private property, but they're lax about enforcement in most areas.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Yah, I see those signs all along 'Sign Pablo'. The Spanish Table put one up briefly but the authorities told them to take it down, I recall. Yet so many remain.

      Dangerous? Distracting? No comprendo that, nowadays there is so much to distract a driver as it stands (legitimate signage, great looking bare legs, cool cars, radio, texting) what's one more piece of a chalkboard?

    2. I tried the Nicaraguan tamales and wasn't that impressed. Just seemed too potatoey and just not enough of the other ingredients which were rather bland.

      @Robert Lauriston The mint wasn't even noticable.

      1 Reply
      1. re: arktos

        Who has good nacatamales so I can compare?

        Mine was nothing like what you describe there were about eight large mint leaves, only tw slices of potatoes, the chicken with a spicy marinade, the chile adding heat. Mine was anything but bland, rather a carnival of many flavors. Even the masa was good.

        I've been debating whether to buy some for my GUatemalan family. Gautemalans are not, in general, fans of picante (spicy) food. While this wasn't too spicy for me, there was enough heat there that they might object.

      2. Bumping this discussion because I went to Casa Latina yesterday, since I was in the area and needed a snack.

        The ingredients for the nacatamales are listed on a sign as: corn meal, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, capers, pork, mint leaves, pruntes, lard, onions, chili pepper, bacon, and apple cider vinegar.

        My nacatamal was $5, and it was really really good. It wasn't too minty (though I did see mint leaves), and it was a bit spicy (but made more spicy by adding some hot sauce). Texture-wise, it was much like rworange describes—not too soft, but quite far from being dry. There were several small pieces of potato, but it wasn't overwhelmingly potato-ey. The sweetness of the prune and the savory pork worked well together. Definitely worth a try if you're in the hood.

        I'd also be curious to hear where I might find other good versions of this in SF, since I'm not often in that part of Berkeley.

         
        1 Reply
        1. Casa Latina has expanded into the space next door, giving them lots of seating. They also installed a stage in the back, maybe for live music. Tamales and tacos, especially the carnitas taco, were great as always.

          1. Big fan of Casa Latina for their tacos, etc. Very reasonably priced and open late for those interested to know. I'm not a particular fan of this dish, just...prefer others. The shop only recently expanded into the space next door for mores eating and possible evening entertainment (I think there is a small, elevated stage area toward the rear).

            I don't believe there is a new owner, just the man they call 'Jefe' who wears a black cap. When we got less enamoured with Spoonrocket, we found their tacos a perfect quick dinner...and cheaper and tastier than Spoonrocket as well.

            1. I've never eaten at Casa Latina, nor have I had a Nacatamale outside of Nicaragua but I stayed with a local family in Managua for 6 months and somewhere have written down the Doña's nacatamale recipe (she was a professional baker and her nacatamales were as good as any I had down there). According to her, the mint leaf was essential, perhaps the distinguishing feature between a nacatamale and a Mexican tamale, aside from the size. Mexican tamales are wrapped in corn husks before steaming, nacatamales in banana leaves. The fillings are completely up to the maker and things like potato or pork are only personal preference. Never did make them but I will one of these years...