As the holidays continue and we ready for the new year, many will offer blessings for our heart and hearth.And nothing blesses my hearth more than a few dozen tamales lovingly hand-made in homes or selected from a steaming basket that an experienced tamale-maker offers as she passes from office to office. For those who do not possess the skills nor the energy to craft their own tamales, DFW is rich with eager cooks willing to share their bounty.
Local chef Stephan Pyles co-authored a book on tamales and makes literally thousands of them for the holiday season. Says Pyles, “West Texas has heavy southern and Hispanic influences and one of my favorite early memories is my discovery of tamales. I was most intrigued by the fact that they came in their own special ‘gift-wrapping.’ That early fascination was enough inspiration for me to compose an entire book on the subject.”
With a lust for the perfect tamale, we made a local journey around the Dallas area to discover some of our favorite tamales, listed in no particular order.
Cuquita’s Restaurant: Owned by the Villafranca family and located in Farmers Branch, Cuquita’s is proud of their tamales, as they should. The airy tamal is heavy on meat and light on masa making for an excellent example of a tamale. Cuquito’s recently made the list of Texas Monthly’s best and for a good reason. They make tamales daily to keep up with demand, and also are famous for their handmade corn tortillas made with the same masa.Their jalapeno and tomatillo salsa is also a good accompaniment.
Luna’s Tortilla: Founded in 1924 the family operated factory provides tortillas, tamales and other hand crafted specialties to many local restaurants and hotels, but they also sell direct to the public out of their tiny Harry Hines factory. You will find daily breakfast and lunch specials to take-away but the big seller during holidays are the tamales. Luna’s takes orders early and will sell out quickly, spending days and nights working to fill the many orders. What makes Luna’s so very special is their masa; it is made from scratch daily and receives regular shipments of corn stored in the silo found in the front of the building. They also believe that a tamale should be more meat that masa, a formula many cooks seem to forget. Luna’s has already started taking New Years orders and offers free champaign and a mariachi band noon on the 31st.
Tortilleria Tuzantla: Hot on the tamale scene in Oak Cliff, Tortilleria Tuzantla is family owned and operated with four generations of the Martinez family. Although their specialty lies in the tortillas they make, the tortilleria also hand spreads many dozens of tamales catering most to Day of the Dead, Christmas and New Years, but has them available through out the year in many varieties of fillings.
La Popular Tamale House: Located in East Dallas la Popular is extremely popular for tamales. I am generally leery of restaurants with their featured item in their name (see: Chili’s), but Popular lives up to the name serving a wide range of tamales. For the less intrepid food traveler you may also find the tasty tamale in Shed #2 at the Dallas Farmers Market. Although not extremely large, the tamale is packed with flavor and priced well.
La Victoria: Rounding up the list for our favorite tamales is another East Dallas gem.Serving sturdy enchiladas, homemade tortillas, and delightful tamales La Victoria receives top honors on all fronts. The La Victoria tamale is firm, fat and filled to the brim of their husks with a flavorful assortment of meats. The seating is limited but they sell the tamales by the dozen to go for your big holiday party.