Tamales - SF Dish of the Month (Dec 2012)
The dish of the month for San Francisco for Dec 2012 is tamales. Here's a link to the voting thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879780
The goal is to collectively try as many versions of tamales as possible during the month of December! So let's start exploring and eating—report back with reviews and photos.
All types of tamales are fair game, and there are lots to try!! Looking forward to seeing what people find.
I am not very well versed in the tamale, and I have yet to try one from the Tamale Lady in the Mission. That said, I have to say I enjoy the vegetarian options by Primavera that I've bought at WF and Andronico's. At around $11/12 for 4, they make an easy, cheap meal (paired with some rice and beans) for dinner and for lunch the next day. I particularly like the flavor of the masa. Probably not the best by any means in the city, but I like them. .
Primavera tamales are made by El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs. They are slightly better, I think, if you buy them at the restaurant, where they will have been made the same day, but very good indeed from the refrigerator section at the market. See more under El Molino Central below.
Steaming for 15 minutes or microwaving for 90 seconds both work well. Microwaving them steams them within the cornhusk wrapper.
The biggest selection in the East Bay is at Primavera's stand at the Tuesday and Saturday Berkeley farmers' market, but in stores Berkeley Bowl has more choices than others, I think. All vegetable varieties only.
Though I've been visiting here for years, and lived here 12 years back when I was at the East Bay Monthly, I've just moved to Berkeley, so I'm not up on where one might find the "interesting" tamales, say from Oaxaca, Michoacan (those heavenly corundas in Patzcuaro!), or the Yucatan—you know, the kinds wrapped in banana or corn leaves (not corn husks).
I imagine the Yucatecan places in SF must have tamales, at least on weekends, and lots of places probably gear up for the Navidad season. Any guidance on where to start looking with the best chance of scoring the good stuff? Fruitvale in Oakland, por ejemplo?
Current info, por favor! And thanks!
-Tamale Acapulco, 1680 Fruitvale, in a mobile booth next to a market, best in fruitvale
-Tamales Mi Lupita, 3340 Foothill Blvd, decent tamales, supplies most hand carts in fruitvale area.
-Tamales ..Tio Santos, 2375 Fruitvale, (haven't been here). many vendors use this address when selling at farmers markets
-Tamalago Cafe (4) sells artisan tamales with fruit, meats, all kinds of stuff, at food shows, farmers market, etc.
-Tamales Unicos....5751 market. most chowhounds love this place.
never tried the tamales at an actual mexican eatery, so can't report.
Nopalito usually (always?) has a tamale on the menu, and it is always excellent, light, not greasy, and with a variety of interesting fillings and variants. Much like you would find in a first class place in Mexico City. I bet this will turn out near the top at the end of the month.
The tamale lady is a great institution, but not gastronomically compelling.
Primavera's tamales are very good and a great quick home meal.
I have had others at various places on 24th St, all good but not up to Nopalito or Primavera. One place has a sweet deserve version, no filling, but good. Can't remember the name.
a month ago the featured tamales at El Molina Central on hwy.12 on the outskirts of Sonoma were Oaxacan mole chicken, cooked in a banana leaf and served with a mole. some of the best we've had. they were also available packaged to take home in their cooler, without the sauce. prepared a black mole from a starter mole paste, and they were just as good at home. they change the variety of tamales available there along with the other menu specials, but if they sound good, try them.
Last Saturday I had one of the Oaxacan mole chicken and one of the pork tamales from El Molino Central. We got them to go along with refried black beans, sakil paak, an extra container of mole, chips and salsa verde. Absolutely heavenly dinner! I am a big fan of tamales, and consider them one of the dishes by which I judge the quality of a Mexican restaurant. These are the best I've ever had.
primavera occasionally sells the oaxacan, banana leaf wrapped tamales at the ferry plaza market, and i snatch them up every time! i have come across them probably once every two months. you can call ahead and see what they are bringing. indeed, this seems the only place besides el molina central where you can find their meat tamales. i've tried to get them at their stand at south berkeley and they sent me to ferry plaza. i was miffed when they raised the price from $10 to $12, but at $3 a tamale they really are a bargain for their size and quality.
In search of tamales on the Peninsula, I found a bunch:
1. Michoacan Produce Market (Menlo Park): has a chicken, pork, or cheese tamale, each $1.50
+ pork dry, but flavor matched well with the almost cornbread flavored wrapping. Texturewise, the masa was even, tender, and balanced in thickness to balance out the filling the filling. I liked this a lot, and topped salsa and sour cream (crema, maybe), this was a difficult to put down dish
+ chicken with green chiles was too dry
2. Mi Pueblo Food Center (East Palo Alto): has a pork or a chicken tamale, each $1.88
+ pork tamale was an over-sized montrosity. The masa was way too thick in parts, and had the texture of mealy reheated grits. Reddish sauced meat.
3. Bravo Taqueria (Redwood City): has a pork, chicken, or vegetable tamale, each $3.28, comes with some salad
+ masa kept moist by coating the pork filling with enchilada sauce, and topping the tamale with enchilada sauce. I couldn't taste the masa or the meat and not at all dry.
4. Taqueria Apatzingan (Redwood City): has a pork or chicken tamale, comes with chips. They also carry champurrado right now.
+ The pork filling was carnitas. The fried up pieces of shredded pork had a strong enough flavor to balance the flavor of the masa. The ends of the tamales were too thick. Excellent green salsa.
Also along Middlefield Road were a bunch of places open after 9PM that didn't carry tamales. Those included: Taqueria El Jarochito, Tacos El Grullense, Los Gemelos, & El Grullense E&E (they do have champurrado though)
5. Los Gallos Taqueria (Redwood City): has a beef, chicken, pork, or vegetable tamale, each $2.50
+Vegetable filling has sliced jalapeños , carrot, and lots of cheese inside. It tasted like a chile relleno.
+The pork filling was so good that I forgot to pay attention to the masa. Tender and juicy, the chunks of pork separated into long shreds when I dug into them. For $2.50, I was not expecting to have such naturally flavored meat, and in such a large quantity.
Very much an eye opener... the fillings of the five pork tamales I ate were completely different from one another. I'm looking forward to see how the Mexican ones compare to reports of Guatemalan nacatamale, Venezuelan hallacas, Puerto Rican pasteles, and if they're not too big a stretch, Brazilian pamonhas.
One time i was in Guanajuato, Mexico and bought tamales from a tamale lady in the streets. they were tamales from heaven. when i got back, i happened to swing by Mi Puebla (Mt View) and got one there. i forgot what meat it was, but the tamale was disappointing, barely warm, no texture, no flavor. perhaps they are competing on price rather than on quality, but with a Mexican clientele who has tasted better, i wonder whether they can sell them consistently.