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Tamales - SF Dish of the Month (Dec 2012)

Dave MP Dec 2, 2012 01:17 AM

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.

Dave MP

  1. s
    Spenbald Dec 2, 2012 04:26 PM

    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. .

    http://www.primaveratamales.com

    4 Replies
    1. re: Spenbald
      k
      Kathleen M Dec 5, 2012 09:04 AM

      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.

      1. re: Kathleen M
        Glencora Dec 10, 2012 09:51 PM

        Westbrae Grocery in Berkeley sells 4 or 5 kinds of Primavera tamales 4 for $10. I'm not sure how well they'd warm up -- especially since the package suggests using a microwave, which I don't have.

        1. re: Glencora
          k
          Kathleen M Dec 11, 2012 10:48 AM

          I always steam them. They come out greeat.

          1. re: Glencora
            Caitlin McGrath Dec 11, 2012 05:13 PM

            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.

      2. s
        sambamaster Dec 2, 2012 06:26 PM

        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!

        4 Replies
        1. re: sambamaster
          s
          shanghaikid Dec 2, 2012 08:45 PM

          fruitvale:
          -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
          other noteworthy::
          -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.

          1. re: shanghaikid
            moto Dec 2, 2012 10:47 PM

            tried the Tamales Unicos a couple of times, and for my preferences they're somewhat average ; prefer the flavor and consistency of Primavera's.

            1. re: moto
              Robert Lauriston Dec 3, 2012 08:29 AM

              The best tamales Unicos de Cuernavaca makes are the green pork, but you have to special-order them.

          2. re: sambamaster
            e
            ernie in berkeley Dec 4, 2012 11:40 AM

            In Berkeley try Casa Latina.

          3. t
            Thomas Nash Dec 2, 2012 06:42 PM

            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.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Thomas Nash
              w
              wally Dec 2, 2012 07:12 PM

              Primavera sells a meat tamale at the Ferry Plaza market only that is excellent.

              1. re: Thomas Nash
                v
                vulber Dec 3, 2012 11:09 AM

                la palma has always been the gold standard for me in the mission

              2. moto Dec 2, 2012 11:01 PM

                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.

                5 Replies
                1. re: moto
                  m
                  Malcolm Ruthven Dec 4, 2012 05:34 AM

                  I definitely second the tamales at El Molina Central. This is a pork tamale:

                  http://ruthvenphotos2.com/files/IMG_1...

                  1. re: moto
                    k
                    Kathleen M Dec 5, 2012 09:14 AM

                    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.

                    1. re: moto
                      o
                      oniontears Dec 6, 2012 09:22 PM

                      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.

                      1. re: oniontears
                        t
                        Thomas Nash Dec 6, 2012 09:32 PM

                        The Primavera Oaxacan style mole meat filled tacos are excellent. I also have only seen them at the Ferry Bldg market. This is what I was referring to when I mentioned Primavera tamales earlier.

                        1. re: oniontears
                          ckshen Dec 7, 2012 03:38 PM

                          i went out and bought the roasted green chili tamale from Primavera from WF. its ok. i will likely sample other flavors if i have the chance next time.

                      2. h
                        hyperbowler Dec 4, 2012 12:17 AM

                        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.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: hyperbowler
                          h
                          hyperbowler Dec 4, 2012 12:24 AM

                          Woops, forgot the pics:

                           
                           
                           
                           
                           
                          1. re: hyperbowler
                            ckshen Dec 5, 2012 11:22 AM

                            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.

                        2. caryjones Dec 4, 2012 09:34 AM

                          I just returned from Costa Rica where I had a tamale. It was quite different from Mexican versions I have eaten - it included pork, carrot, and rice, among other things and was not spicy. Anyone know of a local vendor of Costa Rican tamales?

                          I am a big fan of those sold by All Star tamales at the Alemany Farmers market.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: caryjones
                            s
                            savedlatin Dec 4, 2012 10:55 AM

                            I also like All Star's tamales, particularly the pork mole. The masa is lard-free, yet remains light and fluffy, with good corn flavor. In addition to Alemany, they sometimes make an appearance at the Heart of the City farmer's market in Civic Center on Wednesdays and Sundays.

                            1. re: caryjones
                              Robert Lauriston Dec 4, 2012 11:30 AM

                              I've never heard of any Costa Rican food around here. Sounds similar to nacatamales (Nicaraguan tamales).

                              http://www.chow.com/search?query=naca...

                              1. re: caryjones
                                p
                                Pius Avocado III Dec 14, 2012 09:17 AM

                                All Star's fillings are decent enough, and I give them credit for including banana leaf-wrapped tamales, but their masa is nearly flavorless- no lard, and they put potato and creamed corn in it.

                                1. re: caryjones
                                  h
                                  hyperbowler Feb 24, 2013 06:02 PM

                                  The masa gets points for being moist and having a good texture, but I agree that it's lacking in flavor, either from lard or corn. Still, their #1 Red pork tamale was a delicious dish that I would get again. The pork mole was too light on the filling for my liking.

                                2. h
                                  hyperbowler Dec 5, 2012 12:09 AM

                                  I did a second round in Redwood City tonight. Lots of places currently have champurrado, a seasonal thick masa based chocolate drink. Interesting evening ... I managed to watch nearly the entire Spanish dubbed version of Earthstorm, starring Dirk Benedict, as I wandered from restaurant to restaurant tuned into the same station. Back to tamales...

                                  1. Mi Hacienda (Redwood City) : has pork and chicken tamales, $2.50 each, $6.95 for two with rice and beans.
                                  +Their pork tamale was steamed in a banana leaf. Consistent texture, soft, moist, notable presence of lard in the wrapper, This was most flavorful wrapper I've had this month. Nice pork filling. There's some kind of pallid leafy thing mixed in with the pork.

                                  2. El Paisano Carniceria Y Mercado (Redwood City): has pork and chicken tamales, each $2.50
                                  +The wrapper is made with Masa Mixta Stone Ground masa. It holds together in the tamale and on the fork, but when you bite into it, the masa breaks apart into its coarse textured forkful of awesome. Quite a treat. Good spicy pork inside. I've been told they supply the tesorito for the El Camino Real La Casita Chilanga, but forgot to confirm this.

                                  3. El Guanaco Mexican & Salvadorean Restaurant (Redwood City): has chicken and elote tamales. each $2.50
                                  +The chicken tamale was steamed in a banana leaf. The chicken had a meaty flavor and was mixed with green olives, potato, and red pepper. Moist all around, soft masa.
                                  +The elote tamale took me by surprise. It's not a filled tamale--- it's a solid mass with bits of chopped sweet corn mixed into the batter. Think sweet cornbread, but not bready, and wonderfully moist. This was so good.

                                  4. La Chapina (Redwood City) : has pork and chicken tamales. $3 each.
                                  +The chicken tamale had no real structure to it. It seemed to be more like a stew with saturated cornmeal mush loosely formed around it.

                                  As for some other places on Middlefield in Redwood City, La Casita Chilanga will have them next week, including one that's part of a torta. The front window also says that they're under new management. They didn't have any at Tacos El Grullense E & E (the one closer to 5th), Lindo Michoacán, Cenaduria Los Manguitos, or Las Parrillas Restaurant.

                                   
                                   
                                   
                                   
                                  15 Replies
                                  1. re: hyperbowler
                                    bbulkow Dec 7, 2012 12:23 AM

                                    You go! Too bad I'm stuck in London.

                                    The best tamale (one of the few Tamales) was at La Super-rica in Santa Barbara. It was a special they called "chiapas style" that included a very nice mole.

                                    Any reports of tamales including mole?

                                    1. re: bbulkow
                                      w
                                      wally Dec 7, 2012 06:58 AM

                                      el Molino Central has a Chicken Mole poblano in banana leaves.

                                      1. re: bbulkow
                                        h
                                        hyperbowler Dec 7, 2012 07:47 AM

                                        The reports of mole tamales above sound very appealing. Mole seem to be more prevalent in SF (and that place in Sonoma) than on the Peninsula from some searches on other websites. Oh, and regarding the known Michoacan influence in Redwood City, I've not spotted any of the corundas mentioned upthread (coronas, yes...).

                                        Two more, near the Broadway Area of Redwood City:

                                        Chavez Supermarket (775 Arguello Street Redwood City) they have pork and pineapple tamales, $4.99 for a plate along w/ rice and beans
                                        +Pork's masa was dry not flavorful. More crumbly. Spicy meat inside. The rice wasn't great, and the beans had a stronger lard flavor than any I've eaten before, including outside the continental US.
                                        +Pineapple. Masa was a bit better than the pork one. Pineapple insides were a bit cloying and artificial tasting, and such small portions!

                                        Estampas Peruanas (Redwood City): has a pork and chicken, but not sure), $5.95
                                        +Not surprisingly given this is a Peruvian place, the pork tamale was the most different banana leaf tamale I've had. Not sure if this is a style or preparation issue, but there was more wrapper than filling, and some fillings poke out the sides of the tamale. Fillings included a big chunk of hard boiled egg which added a nice flavor to an adjacent piece of pork, and an over-saturated olive with a pit in it. I didn't care for this very much, but the delicious pickled onions it was served with made it okay as a whole.

                                         
                                         
                                        1. re: hyperbowler
                                          b
                                          Bigshadetree Dec 7, 2012 04:53 PM

                                          My go to place for tamales is in the parking lot of La Tapatia Market in Vallejo, corner of Broadway and Illinois Street. There is a lady who sells tamales on weekends from the trunk of her car. 4 types of tamales, pork, chicken, beef and my favorite chile/cheese.
                                          She arrives about 8: 10 am and can be sold out by 10:30am. She makes what I call traditional Mexican tamales, steamed in corn husks, the masa she makes is really flavorful and moist (so good hot out of the pot). I have tried tamales at a number of restaurants/taquerias - from La Borinquena (my old favorite0, Mercado del Sol, Mi Pueblo, Las Montanas, the small place on Adeliene whose name I can't recall but my favorite (sorry Auntie Mary) are the home made ones from the Senora in Vallejo. The only problem, she is only there on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Tamales are $1.50 each or $15.00 per dozen.

                                        2. re: bbulkow
                                          h
                                          hyperbowler Dec 8, 2012 05:01 PM

                                          Comal in Berkeley currently has a mole tamale on the menu.

                                          Speaking of the East Bay, I had a pork tamale at La Borinequena and learned that they're sold at Oakland's First Friday and elsewhere as Tina's Tamales. They grind their own masa in the back. The masa dough is the thinnest I've encountered so far, yet it held together nicely and still had fluffiness to it. Really nice corn aroma and balanced flavor--- the pork fat did not dominate. The filling was plentiful and the pork had more of a chopped shredded texture than the chunky or shredded pork ones I ate on the peninsula. A little too much fat for my taste, but that did make the meat moist.

                                          1. re: hyperbowler
                                            Robert Lauriston Dec 8, 2012 06:18 PM

                                            Comal's chicken tamale with mole negro is one of the few dishes I've had there I would not order again. A couple of different vegetarian tamales were better.

                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/843810

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              j
                                              JonDough Dec 10, 2012 10:01 AM

                                              +1 Comal's chicken tamale is not that good. The mole and chicken are good but the masa is too thick and on the dry side.

                                            2. re: hyperbowler
                                              escargot3 Dec 10, 2012 10:17 AM

                                              I also had Tina's pork tamale at First Friday, but my experience was quite different. Tho I enjoyed the flavor, the masa was dense. Definitely no fluffiness. Perhaps it was a different batch than yours? Or perhaps I had it later in the evening than you?

                                              1. re: escargot3
                                                h
                                                hyperbowler Dec 10, 2012 10:58 AM

                                                Likely a different batch--- I ate mine at the Borinequena brick and mortar on Saturday. How was your filling?

                                                This is an interesting DOTM--- aside from the variety of tamale styles available, it's a handmade dish that lends itself to lots of variability.

                                                1. re: hyperbowler
                                                  escargot3 Dec 10, 2012 11:15 AM

                                                  filling was good. had a nice flavor. chopped smaller than the frequent larger chunks.

                                                  1. re: hyperbowler
                                                    s
                                                    sydthekyd Dec 10, 2012 07:33 PM

                                                    "DOTM?"

                                                    1. re: sydthekyd
                                                      Stephanie Wong Dec 10, 2012 08:19 PM

                                                      Dish of the Month

                                                2. re: hyperbowler
                                                  p
                                                  Pius Avocado III Feb 8, 2014 11:06 AM

                                                  Tina Ramos aka Tina Tamale appeared on a food program called "Food Rush," around the 8:15 mark here:

                                                  http://livewellnetwork.com/Food-Rush/...

                                              2. re: hyperbowler
                                                Melanie Wong Jul 5, 2013 12:25 PM

                                                Spotting La Chapina in San Mateo last week, I did a search and came across your post again for the branch in Redwood City. Now I know that it's Guatemalan style. Accordingly, the loose corn meal you describe would be strained masa, making it almost pudding-like.

                                                ETA: And now you know why I like elotes so much.

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong
                                                  h
                                                  hyperbowler Jul 5, 2013 07:32 PM

                                                  Good to know that's Guatemalan style!

                                                  Their tamal de elote is quite good, and is better than the ones I've since had at La Santaneca and some places in Excelsior.

                                              3. Dave MP Dec 10, 2012 10:23 PM

                                                Last week I had a tamale from someone selling them outside of the 24th Street BART.

                                                I got cheese (other options were pork and chicken), which came wrapped in a banana leaf. The cheese filling had hardened a bit by the time I got home with the tamale, and stayed hard even when I heated it briefly in the microwave. But the texture of the tamale was great. In addition to cheese, there was a single string bean and a single green chili (quite spicy). The masa had a subtle cumin flavor.

                                                My tamale cost $1.50, which was a good deal considering its quality and size. Definitely makes for a convenient winter snack...and probably 2, along with a salad, would make a nice dinner.

                                                 
                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Dave MP
                                                  Melanie Wong Dec 10, 2012 10:28 PM

                                                  The cheese used in rajas (chile pepper strips) tamales is usually a baton of queso fresco. While I wouldn't quite describe it as "hard", queso fresco does not melt when heated and does not turn soft.

                                                  1. re: Dave MP
                                                    augustiner Dec 11, 2012 09:44 AM

                                                    did this come from a woman on the western side of the BART station, with a greased wrapping of parchment paper encasing the banana leaf? and was the texture which you described as "great" pretty soft, not grainy, and maybe a little difficult to eat by hand without it collapsing a little? if so, this came from a tamale vendor i haven't seen in a very long time (maybe my timing is off), but i love her tamales.

                                                    1. re: augustiner
                                                      Dave MP Dec 11, 2012 09:50 AM

                                                      To augustiner: Yes to all of the above. I wouldn't have been able to eat it by hand very easily, as I think it was a bit too soft. But thanks for elaborating on the texture for me....I guess "great" isn't as useful as "soft and not grainy." I have no idea if she follows any schedule, but it was a Thursday evening at about 5:30 PM when I had her tamales.

                                                      To Melanie: Yes, the queso fresco sounds right.

                                                      1. re: Dave MP
                                                        augustiner Dec 11, 2012 07:47 PM

                                                        thanks, good to know she's still out there.

                                                  2. s
                                                    sweethooch Dec 10, 2012 10:32 PM

                                                    California Street Market, a small Mexican market in Mountain View at 1595 California St., corner of Mariposa. Chicken with red sauce or pork with green sauce (unless I have that backward?) are both moist and delicious; skip the plain cheese one. Rice cookers behind the counter keep them warm and steamy.

                                                    1. ...tm... Dec 11, 2012 01:39 AM

                                                      I am intrigued by tamales as the dish of the month as I've never developed a liking for tamales and have always been curious as to whether that is because I'd only tried inferior tamales or whether it was something about the masa-heavy genre I just wasn't that excited about. I had a previously overcome my boredom with bland, soft, nixtamalized corn with grits after going to several hippie places with my Southern vegetarian friends thought were great but I thought of as variations on Dickensian gruel the grits finally showed their utility in a big plate of buttery, cheesy shrimp grits.
                                                      I've sampled a few places on this particular mission, and so far I'm thinking that relative blandness of large amounts of soft masa just doesn't do it for me, especially since it reminds me that I'd rather be eating a griddled tortilla, fried chip, or a wide variety of antojitos made out of this masa. And yet, I hope a consensus winner emerges from this quest so I can try it and give my indifference to tamales its final test. So what I'm saying is take my lack of enthusiam with a grain of salt.
                                                      My first stop was to La Borinqueña last week. I got their combo plate with a pork tamale (and a chile verde enchilada that I liked better, but again, just personal preference--the tortillas are pretty good here). You can order fresh ground masa by the pound a day in advance. In the combo the tamal came with red gravy and shredded monterey jack on top. The masa was soft and not too thick a layer. The finely chopped pork had a nice but not overpowering flavoring. All in all, what I was expecting of a decent tamale, though it didn't win me over to the tamale-loving team. I thought it might, as the menu proudly proclaims lard use in several spots (including the beans and chips).

                                                       
                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: ...tm...
                                                        ...tm... Dec 11, 2012 02:02 AM

                                                        I saw some tamales sold 4/$3.99 (1 lb.) at Grocery outlet labeled "The Tamale Cafe" distributed by Me Gusta Gourmet Foods, Pacoima, CA. I thought I might as well pick them up as an example of terrible tamales to compare others to,but it turned out they weren't half bad. The shredded chicken filling wasn't too exciting, but the masa wasn't too dense in those I re-steamed in their corn husk wrappers and had a decent flavor, too. (though the alternative microwave instructions toughened the one I tested in the micro quite quickly). Either these were pretty good supermarket tamales, or my lack of enthusiasm for the foodstuff leaves me incapable of distinguishing the good from the bad. Overall, not a bad breakfast (and the microwaved tamale experiment was somewhat salvaged by frying). Certainly worth $1/tamale. Steamed on left, microwaved on right.

                                                         
                                                      2. ...tm... Dec 11, 2012 02:03 AM

                                                        I ordered the nacatamal at Casa Latina and didn't care for it at all, though that is not to say it wasn't a good example of that dish (which I had never had before). I've always enjoyed Casa Latina's tacos and tortas. As mentioned, I'm not huge tamale fan, and the nacatamal combines the masa element I'm not a huge fan of with a heavy, stewed flavor I've gotten the couple of times I've tried Nicaraguan restaurants. It came wrapped in a plantain leaf and the masa portion was much softer than most tamales, almost gelatinous: in fact I suspect there may be a starch (rice?) at work in the mix. There was also some noticeable seasoning within the masa. It had a slice of dry-rub seasoned pork that was also dry in texture. The filling was rounded out with rice, raisins, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and likely more. They have tamales also, which I haven't tried.

                                                         
                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: ...tm...
                                                          h
                                                          hyperbowler Dec 11, 2012 07:29 AM

                                                          I think we're in the same boat in terms of not being huge tamale fans for a long time--- it wasn't until I had a pastel / pastele in Puerto Rico that anything clicked. Of course, the masa wrapper in those can include yuca, taro, and/or plantain so maybe it's not a fair comparison. Not sure what else is available around here like that. I've read that El Nuevo Frutilandia in the Mission has a taro-based pastel, but haven't tried it.

                                                          Yeah, about a year ago, I tried the nacatamal at Casa Latina. I didn't remotely like it. A few board members who know more about Central American cooking than I do strongly recommended it, so I assumed my lack of enthusiasm was a personal preference.

                                                          1. re: ...tm...
                                                            Melanie Wong Dec 11, 2012 09:20 AM

                                                            Nacatamales and the Yucatan's tamales colados are made with strained masa to create that refined texture.

                                                            http://www.los-dos.com/recipes/verarticulo.php?IdArticulo=297
                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/477356

                                                          2. RWCFoodie Dec 11, 2012 10:58 AM

                                                            Tamale craving hit on a recent gloomy day on the way home after errand running all morning... Needed something quick: Chavez Market at the corner of 5th Ave. & El Camino in Redwood City. $4.99 for a plate of 2 tamales, pork or chicken, whole beans & rice. Wish I could say the tamales were terrific. Masa dry w/o much flavor. Meats stringy also w/o much flavor. Just not very delicious gut bombs...

                                                            1. m
                                                              Malcolm Ruthven Dec 11, 2012 05:46 PM

                                                              I had a pork tamale this afternoon from the Santa Venetia Market in north San Rafael, just across from the Marin County Civic Center. It was fairly small, $2, with more pork filling than masa. Everything was tender and hot. Flavor? OK-good, not great like those at El Molino Central, but for $2 it was quite good. You can only see the top of it in the photo.

                                                              http://svmarket.com

                                                               
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                                                                shanghaikid Dec 15, 2012 04:28 AM

                                                                locale: st. mary's birthday event, 12/12, st. elizabeth
                                                                vendor: rica's pupusa
                                                                eats:
                                                                -salvadorean tamales (2/$5)
                                                                good sized, lots of masa, double wrapped. masa smooth, velvety, no doubt lard used. chuck of moist chicken in the middle. hot chili salsa provided.
                                                                pretty good, not dry,

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: shanghaikid
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                                                                  sydthekyd Dec 15, 2012 06:55 PM

                                                                  Where was this?

                                                                  1. re: sydthekyd
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                                                                    shanghaikid Dec 18, 2012 02:45 PM

                                                                    in front of st. elizabeth's church, 34th ave. fruitvale district, oakland,

                                                                    seems a yearly event.

                                                                    rica's is at various public events like oaktown art murmur.

                                                                    1. re: shanghaikid
                                                                      Melanie Wong Dec 18, 2012 03:20 PM

                                                                      Is the name of the biz actually Rica's with an apostrophe? I ask because signs for "Ricas Pupusas" appear on various carts as marketing and just means delicious pupusas. Likewise Ricas Tortas, for delicious sandwiches.

                                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                                                        shanghaikid Dec 19, 2012 07:19 AM

                                                                        never saw a cart.
                                                                        just a booth many times with wavy banners and the words "rica's pupusa" on it.
                                                                        no other names on booth or anywheres. (so i assume that was the name of the biz).

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                                                                  sambamaster Dec 15, 2012 06:50 PM

                                                                  Let me assure one and all that the "handmade" seasonal tamales from Trader Joe's draw in a forceful amount of wind: s-ck! At least the "green chicken" variety. Neither filling nor masa offer any flavor. Of any sort. Wow, am I sorry I got them! (I know, it ain't really Chow-worthy, but they were there!)

                                                                  1. Dave MP Dec 18, 2012 02:04 PM

                                                                    Last week, we ordered several types of tamales from La Palma in the Mission. See report here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/882620

                                                                    My favorites included special vegetarian blue corn tamales and tamales de elote

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                                                                      sambamaster Dec 18, 2012 07:36 PM

                                                                      Ok, finally a bit to report. I love GOOD tamales, but they are hard to find. My experience, mostly in Texas (and Mexico) has been that the "traditional", perhaps, generic, tamal is usually, well, generic. I've found that the tamales from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, El Salvador, Michoacán, etc tend to be more interesting, but also more delicious...though not always.

                                                                      Anyway, I've been scouting for a source for some of those "interesting" tamales for our Christmas Eve repast, but didn't want to "cross the river" (sorry, too much time in New Orleans, NYC, Portland, and other towns with rivers, not bays) from Berkeley to SF to scout the Yucatecan places and was assuming I'd do well to find Salvadoran tamales somewhere in Richmond or Oakland. But Casa Latina is not too far from Casa Sambamaster so I decided to at least give their three varieties a try today. Well, surprise! There was a flyer on the counter advertising, in addition to the nacatamal referred to elsewhere in this thread, the availability of Oaxacan tamales of chicken and of pork. Had to have those in addition to the "traditional" tamales on offer. Sadly, they were out of the three standard varieties so I grabbed the two Oaxacan varieties and a nacatamal to steam at home. Wow! The Oaxacan chicken with a drizzle of the provided crema fresca and some salsa verde was fantastic...nice chunks of chicken, good flavoring of the filling, and a masa that was neither too heavy nor thick. The pork was good too, but not quite as good, at least to me. The nacatamal is on hold for breakfast. Will return to pick up samples of the standard varieties tomorrow, but the Oaxacan tamales will surely be on the table next Monday evening. SambaMissus thinks the Oaxacans will be too spicy for her SambaKids, so the standard pork, chicken and rajas will probably be invited to the party also.

                                                                      Saw the Primaveras at Andronicos last week and picked up the green chile and cheese variety (I think that was it), and while it was good, was not very impressive to me...I'm not a fan of these things when they are not absolutely fresh, so maybe from the source they are better. Trip to Sonoma's in the cards.

                                                                      Will assess the other CL tamales here in a day or two.

                                                                      Thanks to all who are posting in this thread...eager to get to a few more of these places sooner than later.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: sambamaster
                                                                        Robert Lauriston Dec 22, 2012 09:18 AM

                                                                        If you're in the East Bay, try Tamales Unicos de Cuernavaca.

                                                                        1. re: sambamaster
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                                                                          sambamaster Dec 22, 2012 02:14 PM

                                                                          For our Christmas Eve gathering, we ordered a mix of tamales oaxaqueños and "normal" tamales from Casa Latina. The former for the adults, the latter for younger, less tolerant palates. With an olla full of frijoles borrachos, some cerveza and some Mexican hot chocolate, we should be set.

                                                                          After the holidays, it's off to SF to explore some Yucatecan options...

                                                                          ¡Feliz Navidad a todos!

                                                                          Mr. SambaMaster

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                                                                          wanderlust21 Dec 19, 2012 12:32 AM

                                                                          I'm partial to the pork tamales at the Noe Valley Farmer's market. They have a good meat to masa ratio and the shredded pork is nicely seasoned by a green chili sauce. The masa is tender and flavorful, top it with some of their green salsa and you get a nice spicy kick. I forget the name of the stand, but it's the only one selling Mexican food and is run by a family.

                                                                          1. Glencora Dec 21, 2012 09:07 PM

                                                                            Since I was dragged to Cactus after shopping on College Ave. I tried the tamales. I think they're a seasonal item. I got the turkey mole--fairly large and reasonable at 2 for $5, They were in banana leaves and smelled wonderful as I unwrapped them. Unfortunately, they didn't have a lot of flavor. I could barely taste the mole, though the shredded turkey was moist.

                                                                            1. mariacarmen Dec 22, 2012 12:02 AM

                                                                              Red Balloon restaurant on Mission serves nacatamales, which from what i remember are very much like traditional home-made ones i've had (former BF's family). i liked them, but it's been a few years. nacatamales are are an entire meal unto themselves.

                                                                              but my favorite "regular" tamale is still at Evergreen Market on Mission btw 21st and 22nd. i don't know who supplies them, but they are kept in a steamer. they have i believe 3 different kinds, but the absolute best are the Salvadoran pork ones. So tender, the masa just melts. very flavorful, never dry. steam them up, with a drizzle of crema...... excellent.

                                                                              1. Melanie Wong Dec 30, 2012 08:15 PM

                                                                                For DOM, I tried the tamal en hoja de platano (wrapped in banana leaf) at the newly opened Casa del Mole in Healdsburg. The filling was pollo en mole negro. At $1.75, this was smaller than other versions, but served up nicely with some crema, pico de gallo and guacamole on the side, as well as complimentary chips. Can't beat that. More details here about Casa del Mole mercado y carniceria and Rufina's Kitchen.
                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884193

                                                                                One more day for tamale month . . . by my count, five of the eight people who voted for tamales as dish of the month have not posted yet about what they gone out and found. Hope to hear from you.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                                                                  sambamaster Dec 31, 2012 09:56 AM

                                                                                  Melanie, thanks for that report...sounds good.

                                                                                  By the way, we loved our modest tamales oaxaqueños from Casa Latina which we consumed on Christmas Eve...slathered with crema, etc. Now we have a list of new joints to try over the coming months...thanks to all you contributed.

                                                                                  On another note, we had great dan dan mian yesterday at Z+Y....hope that dish makes the cut one of these months...still have not found a version here that matches some I've had in NY, especially in Flushing...sigh....

                                                                                  1. re: sambamaster
                                                                                    Melanie Wong Dec 31, 2012 11:58 PM

                                                                                    If you head north, stop at Karina's in Petaluma as well for Oaxacan-style tamales.

                                                                                    Here's the little one from Casa del Mole in Healdsburg.

                                                                                    (And if dan dan mian doesn't get selected as DOM, I promised Ms. "tm" that we'll just start a survey anyway.)

                                                                                     
                                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                                                                      sambamaster Jan 1, 2013 01:19 AM

                                                                                      Those look great! Will try next time we go up to the Vitamin/Vinyl store in Petaluma!!! Soon!!!!

                                                                                      Dan Dan Mian for President! No "deals", please!!!!

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                                                                                  sundeck sue Dec 31, 2012 08:40 AM

                                                                                  Two chicken tamales w/ mole this week.

                                                                                  @ Cosecha (Oakland)--one of their Fri night specials: delicious--moist, chicken perfect, mole outstanding.

                                                                                  @ Comal (Berkeley)--also great, though perhaps an A- to Cosecha's A--a tad drier, the flavors a little muddier. Which is not to say that I didn't mightily enjoy and won't order it again (someone just needs to get us to stop ordering their amazing chips & guacamole w/ three salsas, so I won't be so full by the time the tamales arrive!).

                                                                                  And even though the Dish of the Month was tamales, not mole, I should add that I was inspired to stay up very late last night making a chicken mole for New Year's Eve!

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: sundeck sue
                                                                                    Melanie Wong Dec 31, 2012 11:52 PM

                                                                                    Good on you! Were the two tamales you tried steamed in banana leaves?

                                                                                  2. Glencora Jan 2, 2013 10:07 AM

                                                                                    The Tina Tamale truck was at the top of Solano yesterday afternoon. I overheard someone scandalized by the notice that they use lard. I wonder if this will be a regular stop or if it was a New Year's thing.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Glencora
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                                                                                      hyperbowler Jan 2, 2013 10:14 AM

                                                                                      Heh, especially since I believe she has vegetarian ones too.

                                                                                    2. Glencora Apr 20, 2013 07:34 AM

                                                                                      I had the tamales at Los Gallos taqueria in Redwood City last night. The $9 plate included two large tamales, not particularly fluffy, but filled with lots of flavorful shredded chicken. Also the usual pools of beans, rice, sour cream, gauc and salsa. I think meat is what this place does well. (I saw neck on the menu? Who's neck would that be?) My son's crispy al pastor tacos were messy, but he loved them. My husband had his first (and, I hope, last) wet burrito. The food isn't subtle or healthful, but for what it is, it's good. I'd have the tamales again. It was pleasant to side outside with little kids running around and a table of firemen enjoying their food. People were doing serious drinking in the bar. So why was my margarita so sweet and weak?

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