tamale hunting in san diego
I have some kind of thing for tamales. I really love a good tamale. I used to go to a particular tamale vendor weekly at the farmer’s market in Scripps Ranch a few years ago – when to my dismay that vendor was gone and replaced with a “gourmet” tamale person who charged more and the tamales were NOT as good despite their snooty gourmet status. Gourmet does not equal good! It’s just a fancy word so you can charge people more… grumble.
Fast forward to now. Over the weekend, after Jake, T and I went to see Monument’s Men (which was really good) I had a hankering for some tamales. Jake and I had spotted this tamale place near Texas St. and University Ave. in North Park and that’s where we headed after the movie.
Delicious Tamales d’Pepe
This place is located like a block away from Texas St. We parked in the laundermat parking lot right next to the storefront.
There is usually no one standing here. You have to get their attention or call out or something. I went one time without Jake and didn’t see anyone and I didn’t bother to call out and I just left… because I’m chicken, I guess? I don’t know. But this time someone was ahead of us and started looking in the trays and that got the attention of whoever was back there.
This is the menu for their tamales. They are all $2 each. We got three tamales and then went to another location to get three more to compare.
The tamales here are wrapped in aluminum foil and put into a plastic bag. Condensation quickly accumulated in the bag from the steamy warm tamales.
We got three kinds of tamales to try.
These tamales are like the traditional kind I usually see – long and wrapped in a husk. The pork tamale was T and Jake’s favorite of the bunch of six that we tried. I thought it was a little on the spicy side and I didn’t really like the sauce they put on the pork, but I think that’s why Jake and T liked it. The cheese and chili one had baby jack cheese in it that was melted really nicely. The chilies are placed on top and easier to avoid if you don’t like it spicy. The sweet corn tamales had a much different texture than the other two since the sweet corn is incorporated throughout the tamale (this one doesn’t have a “fillling” rather the whole thing has the sweet corn flavor with bits of corn throughout it). The masa was nice and tender and soft on all three of these. My favorite of the three was the cheese/chili because I really liked how the cheese melted into the masa. It made me a happy girl.
Tamales El Mexicano
Jake told me about this cart that he has seen before that I have never noticed. It’s also on University Ave. but it’s in City Heights, a few blocks west of I-15. It’s in the parking lot next to Auto Zone and this liquor store.
There’s a lady who sits and mans the cart.
They have a similar menu to the other tamale place except they also have banana wrapped tamales and a pineapple strawberry one. The tamales here are also $2 a piece.
You can already see the difference with the exterior here. They are wrapped in paper and husk and tied on the ends.
These tamales are much shorter and stouter than the ones we tried first. We again got pork and a cheese & chili. They didn’t have sweet corn here so we opted to get a chicken.
The pork filling on this one made it my favorite – it was not spicy and the pork was very tender and shredded into pieces. The masa was very delicate and a bit more moist than the ones from Tamales d’Pepe. The cheese & chili one was way, way, way spicer as the chili was totally incorporated into the tamale and I couldn’t just try a piece with only cheese in it. The chicken one was not bad but not really memorable either. I preferred the masa on the other tamales but I liked the less-spicy pork version served here.
I’d come back to either (both) of these tamale places to try out the other flavors. I’m curious about the pineapple strawberry one as well – if it has a filling, or if the pineapple/strawberry is just incorporated into the masa like the sweet corn tamale was.
Do you have a great tamale spot that you think I should check out? Please, please let me know! I’m always on the search for awesome tamales to fill my belly with.
Delicious Tamales d’Pepe (yelp link)
2516 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
Tamales El Mexicano
3842 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105