5 Local Vendors of Traditional Tamales
Tamales date back to 8000 to 5000 B.C., when the Aztecs and Mayas used them as easily transportable food. In modern-day Mexico, tamales begin with nixtamalized corn, called masa, combined with fat and water to make a thick batter. That batter is typically filled with a savory variation of meat, cheese, vegetables or peppers, wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and steamed.
Tamales are a true treat and a labor of love. Luckily, there are a number of restaurants and vendors in St. Louis serving up quality versions of the popular Mexican dish.
The Tamale Man
Doug Marshall grew up with a half Mexican, half Cuban stepmother and his grandmothers. He had a blast shopping for fresh produce and making tamales with them—and eventually learned the recipe by heart. Marshall marinates and roasts the meat and uses the renderings and lard from the trimmings in the tamales. It takes time to make the chiles perfect, too—he roasts, steams and cleans them before they’re added.
Customers can choose from pork, chicken or the vegan black bean and corn tamales at multiple farmers’ markets from St. Louis City to Wildwood and Eureka to Lake St. Louis. Find information on where The Tamale Man stands are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At the markets, you can often locate the family-run stands by looking for the line of hungry customers, and other market attendees will be happy to point you in the right direction. Special orders for frozen tamales can be placed for pickup but must be made 24 hours in advance.
Juan More Tamale
Hugo Rivera and Suzanne Santos first set up shop at the Soulard Farmers’ Market as Juan More Tamale in 2014 and have remained ever since. They offer standard flavors like the cheese and jalapeno with white queso sauce, chorizo and potato with tomato-chipotle sauce and chicken tinga, as well as a number of seasonal holiday flavor like the turkey and dressing with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with pumpkin sauce. In summer, the stand might also offer cool treats like Mexican paletas (frozen ice pops) or bright mango agua fresca.
730 Carroll St.
The Tamale Factory
Another standby at the Soulard Farmers’ Market is The Tamale Factory, which often sells out by noon. The family-run business offers chorizo and cheese with salsa roja and salsa verde and poblano pepper with Chihuahua cheese and corn, topped with salsa roja and sour cream. The house salsa verde is made with tomatillos and serrano peppers, while the salsa roja is made with tomatoes and serranos. For $38 per dozen, the Tamale Factory also offers large orders of chicken, pork, and poblano pepper and cheese over the holidays—and they’ll deliver them to your home.
730 Carroll St.
Diana’s Bakery is an unassuming bakery on Cherokee Street with one of the most elaborate selections of baked goods in town. The bakery offers tres leches cakes, cinnamon-dipped churros, sweet empanadas, bear claws, cookies and tamales. Yes, you read that right: The hot-pink dessert version uses a sweet masa dough that’s wrapped and steamed the same way as traditional savory tamales (which are also available at the bakery on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). Diana’s summer hours are 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily, with the exception of a 6 p.m. close on Sundays. Call for special orders.
2843 Cherokee St.
The Esparza family moved from San Diego to St. Louis in 1995 and opened their restaurant—which they named Lily’s in honor of the family’s tortilla factory in California—in 2001. Since then, Lily’s Mexican has become a destination for fresh, home-style enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, burritos and tortas in Southampton.
Guests order from the counter and sit down with chips and salsa while they wait for their meal. Try the cheese and poblano pepper or pork tamales with green or red sauce off of the menu or place an order of tamales by the dozen for pickup. Lily’s Mexican is open from 3-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11:20 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sundays. Call for special orders.
4601 S. Kingshighway Blvd.
Featured image courtesy of Juan More Tamale.