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Cheap Eats: No Keeping Tucson Tamale Co. Under wraps

Cheap Eats: No Keeping Tucson Tamale Co. Under wraps

This variation of Tucson Tamale Co.'s lunch special ($6.75), features a Beef and Green Chile Pork and Cheddar tamales and a side of black beans.

What was ordered: Two lunch specials ($6.75 each) and two soft drinks ($1.50 each) for a total of $17.84, including tax, well within our Cheap Eats goal of paying $20 or less on a meal for two.

Comments: Given the winter of our discontent when it comes to all things economic, I did some tallying to get an idea of just how tough times have been for local eateries in 2008.

My unofficial total for year-to-date closures stands at 39.

Then I counted the number of restaurant openings for 2008 and got an official total of . . . 39.


It struck me as more than a little incredulous that in a such a seemingly dour year, the number of restaurant openings kept pace with the number of closings. Still, I’d have a hard time convincing restaurateurs that shut down this year – or are perilously close to shutting down – that the balance seems to indicate maybe things weren’t so bad, at least collectively speaking.

Which brings me to Tucson Tamale Co., which just opened last week. It may just be one more eatery to add to the newbie column when it comes to the math, but it’s one that has given me a new-found optimism for the local food scene.

That’s because this smart, spiffy little place, which took over what was formerly (and briefly) Silver Lining Cafe, has the kind of imaginative slant that could take hold and flourish, even in an economic climate as gloomy as this one.

The angle here, as the name implies, is all about tamales.

Tucson Tamale Co., sports a fleet of changing varieties of tamales stuffed with everything from chicken, beef, pork and shrimp to spinach and more. You can order a dozen or 12 dozen or more to pick up. You can also eat in with a lunch special that offers your choice of two tamales, a side order and one of three house-made salsas.

All four varieties of tamales we ordered impressed us with their authentic nature, even though they’re made with lard-free masa. Also impressive were their innovative stuffings. It doesn’t hurt that they’re jammed with three times the meat and other fillings of standard tamales.

The Chipotle Beef version was indeed spicy (maybe too much for some) and featured moist, fresh-tasting shredded beef.

The San Carlos version featured bay shrimp nicely offset with kernels of sweet roasted corn and red pepper.

Even better was a Chicken Tomatillo version with diced chicken breast smartly soured by a healthy amount of minced tomatillos.

Our favorite of the four was the Green Chile Pork with Cheddar tamal, which tasted as if the pork used was of the top-notch tenderloin variety.

The pork was almost elegant tasting, perfectly complementing the masa.

While the side of roasted jalapeño was just that – one pepper wrapped in paper – the black beans were anything but standard. Topped with pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), the beans were imbued with an exquisitely sweet and savory seasoning, the details of which we couldn’t quite place but thoroughly enjoyed. Other choices for sides include Basmati Rice Salad, Masa-Ball Soup, Roasted Corn and Chips and Salsa.

Tucson Tamale Co. is just the kind of acutely focused, regionally centered concept that could catch on with customers, even those stuck in the down-sizing doldrums of late 2008.

Service: Order and pick up your food at the counter. Workers were friendly and upbeat.

Bar: No

Children’s menu: Yes

Most recent health inspection: Passed opening inspection in November.


Tucson Tamale Co.

Address and phone: 2545 E. Broadway, 305-4760

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday

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