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Summer Blockbusters, Artery Blockers and the Art of Turning 50

29 Aug


Admit it. Jaws best scene comes when a great white’s guts bloody contents slosh onto the dock. We all want to see a limb or two but instead get better: car license plates, a lava lamp, and a bunch of junk that suggests this great white invented the South Beach diet, along with the Hollywood Summer blockbuster.

Some fishermen bring in a fairly large tiger shark. Hooper knows it’s not the shark they’re after, even though the mayor and the rest of the town are convinced their troubles are over.

Summer simmering down to its wet end here – or perhaps those are curt cobain’s tears falling on the Foo Fighters fest @ Wrigley 2night (Rewind: Pearl Jam’s Friendly Confines gig 2013 rain delay also awash in The God Of Grunge) or sweat maybe staged an unlikely play of thoughts starring Jaws, Junk and El Preferrido canned tamales.


The tin can tamales I wolfed down back in July. And I felt a responsibility to my loyal readers and family to wait until the test results came in. Over the span btw tamales and The Foos my biological calendar reminded me yo lived to be Fifty:


Up until now, I treated mi vida antigua as a series of pop quizzes. At the half-century mark, true standardized testing begins. The format runs from true or false to multiple choice, essay, a greasy finger slid up your butt, to basic arithmetic.


Me, I performed a modern mid-century durability self-test of sorts with said tin tamales (ahora the alchemy of the meandering metaphor madness) by first cooking up (Cobain reference) the gelatinous BP grease slick floating atop the tamales y the tamales then shot up the red hot sabrosa greasy mess into my maw igniting hallucinatory visages of a cross section of my wax paper arteries clogged up with lava lamp lard (Jaws).


We the help of some large cued cottage cheese: aces.

La Babysitter Chow: New Flavor!

18 Jul

Chef Dinty Moore


Chef Boy-ar-dee


Chef Franco American


Chef Campbells


If this roll call of classic American seventies canned cooking kings jars loose more than one memory of the dozens wherein mom and dad, mom and mom, dad and dad, mom, dad, mom and the milkman, or dad and the piano teacher closed down the family cocineria for a night and/or days off to ‘play bridge’ or “talk to a man about a horse” and left dinner in the mildly capable hands of a daft teenager, then you too have beheld upon your lengua the sublime glory that be babysitter chow.

Usually pre home economics – therefore befuddled by any kitchen utensil more sophisticated than a can opener time was babysitter chow filled the tummies, hearts and arteries of my gring@ generation (Sandwich) though doubtfully that of Gens X, Y and Z. Always canned, often zesty, made with meat of an unknown origin, ever a treat big time, and offering roughly less than or equal to nutritional value of Alpo: Bow Wow!

Yum si, and yet as El Papa Grande of dos los ninos, speaking for my own family and on behalf of our babysitters, not a single product by these great chefs of yore shall ever pass through the lips and onto the palates of mi children. Not por que yo o mi esposa could ever be accused of not banning such delights from our home, no. We are neither food puritans nor paranoias. Tis por que the kids simply don’t care for it. (Okay, that and for now at least, my love for cooking for and feeding our lot simply won’t allow me to let anyone outside of the family or our local donut shop to make food for the table (and floor).) This of no duh doesn’t mean I won’t continue to feast on the Great Chefs of North America’s finest fixings.



I felt somewhat restricted to exposing my babysitter food fetish on a blog bound to comida Mexicana tipica with so few being of the Mexican persuasion, limiting myself ot a mere espousing  at some length on the glories of Chef Dinty Moore’s tamales, even then within the context of tamales rather than babysitters. (Scroll back if yer so inclined.)  So if you care to, imagine el jig I improvised in aisle 7B at the local Jewel when abracadabra these Beefy TacOs reached out and grabbed mi los ojos:

Quicker than you can say “Honey, have you been using more glue and brown paper bags than usual? I’ve noticed since babysitter XXXX started we’ve been running out of that and Scotch Guard a lot lately?” I beelined to the cocineria to heat up a saucepan, rock a can opener, grab a tort and sink mi dentes into a spoonful of Chef Campbells appeal to the latin@ vote.


Esta Good, you betcha. As great as the myriad memories of running wild and free in the house with the parents at the dog track and the babysitter huffed out on Testors and is that Beefaroni I smell burning on the stove top? Hellifiknow, check back with me in about 30 years.


How Chicago’s Love of The Terror That Be Tavern Tamales Can Best Be Explained As Nothing More Than A Gianormous Case Of Cognitive Dissonance

30 Aug


When not blogging on AzChiMex comida and literally juggling dos los ninos withinin spare 60 second blasts I’m slightly consumed with thinking about the brain. Not ceso, gracias very mucho, rather the electric, dappled jello-mold bobbing blissfully – hopefully – between my ears. This stems from the right side (or is it left?) of my recently earned college degree from the mega-U, pre-baristacademic Arizona State University. Filmmaking and psychology were my majors. And because I am a “lifelong learner” who passionately loathes that term, I can’t help but continue to view “films” with a critical eye and perform psychological experiments on my children.

Before you get all Child Protective Servicesy allow me to be the first to inform you that I am joking. (Though El Nino Numero Uno may require a session on Sigmund’s sofa upon discovering here how I once substituted his diapers with tortillas, unless he kills me first, then he will be Oedipus.)

On a similar B-flat, if I could improve one thing about all this electronic communication it would be to replace JK and LOL, LMAO et al with a subtler means of alerting readers when sarcasm, innuendo and humor happens.

Then again, to paraphrase the Martian in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories”:

“You want to do blogging about AzChiMex comida a real service? Tell funnier jokes.”

En verdad, the only psychological experiments performed around here are on my own ceso when depressed by lusty AzChiMex food in limited supply.


Which is how I’ve come to self-diagnose myself and my fellow Chicagoans as suffering from a serious case of comida Mexicana cognitive dissonance.

Por que Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance1-1

Take it away Dr. Festinger:

Hypothesis A – “The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance”

Hypothesis B – “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance

Mira: If “dissonance” = Mexicana comida Chicago mediocre then according to hypothesis ‘ A’ the reduction sauce to achieve consonance = “Killer”  ‘Pitbull’ et al Margaritas  and/or beer by the gallon.


I tend to lean towards hypothesis B myself and avoid all “situations and information” likely to motivate me to take leave of my family for a Oaxaca Special at Carolina’s in Phoenix, or Oaxaca Mexico for good due to comida dissonance though on a recent Saturday night I abandoned my family (and mind) for a work outing. Gallons of beer, several ill-advised en fuego shots, and pool all contributed to a bout with hypothesis A whence upon I inhaled a hot dozen tavern tamales whose brilliance moved me to sing over the karaokeers a cancione original de amor por tamales de oro de dio y authentica, sabrosa y delgado in my best Ronnie James Dio to the tune of Holy Diver. Hell, I even let los tamales take selfies, so ‘consonated’ fue yo.

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And por que even with restorative pills now availble there’s always a ‘the morning after’. 600full-the-morning-after-poster

This ‘the morning after’ would not be the first time I fished ‘the night before’ food from out of my pockets, and ( con apologias mi ninos ) will likely not be the last. Though this ‘the morning after’ was different:  the first one while (still) married, with two children I honor all husbandly and fatherly responsibilities. So damn skippy I cooked the found food prior to eating it.


Argue all you want about whether one can objectively judge the quality – y mas importante the authenticity – of any comida typica (obviously were not blogging about The Frontera Grill here – gracias dios) pulled from the lint-lined confines of one’s trouser and/or satin bomber jacket pockets. But, the most sublime uneaten half of Philadelphia Cheesesteak I’ve ever eaten ‘the morning after’ spent ‘the night before’ pressed up against my heart, nestled as it was within the satin sanctum of a beloved nut brown suede car coat.


Can we put aside for the moment the suggestion that I sleep in my clothes and/or am homeless?


Back to the matter at hand:

How Chicago’s Love of The Terror That Are Tavern Tamales (and when you think about it, pickled eggs) Can Best Be Explained As Nothing More Than A Gianormous Case Of Cognitive Dissonance.

 Cognitive dissonance1-1

Cognitive dissonantless confession time: I’ve never eaten a microwaved tampon. Nor will I ever, no matter how cossonated I become. For I can’t possibly imagine how one might taste even slightly better than a tavern tamale. Insert appropriate penance for my transgressions here.


Not sure what worked – and I ate all six masa mistakes – and because even Jaques Lacan couldn’t explain divine intervention and even if he did I wouldn’t even pretend to understand him, Los Dios dropped onto my grocers’ shelf that very same afternoon the following masa milagras:

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I shall refrain from sharing the location of my nearest grocer and these tamales. Though nuking a couple dozen then hauling ’em in an igloo down to my corner cantina might not be the worst kind of intervention. Nah…they’ll keep just fine in my 501s.

Escuche la musica del Killer Pussy para Arizona circa 1980s:

The State of These United States of North Americans Fried Chicken Burrittos Union

29 Jan

Can someone please explain to my why the chicken ain’t  the National of These United State of North Americans bird? Have you ever tasted bald eagle? Did I just answer my own question? (I missed President O’s SOTU. Did I miss this too?)


The perennial front-runner: Turkey, is far too dumb and ugly to be elevated above the status of say the official bird of congress. Verdad,  chicken suggests weakness but only to someone who has  never eaten hot chicken in Nashville.


But c’mon, let’s be honest ‘merica: who refers to acts of bravery, patriotism or congress as “Bald Eagley”.


Unconvinced? Anyone who has ever seen the whites of the eyes of a real live bald eagle – not on TV, the Internet, or zooed – please step to the front of the class…..just as I expected.


Therefore the second law, amendment, favor, creed or dictum or edict – whatever they’re called – I shall pass down once elected President: fried chicken from some day forth shall be the official food of these United States  of North Americans.  The first was obviously outlawing cumin.

Admittedly,  I may sound like a trend-follower, what with fried chicken and waffles now available at Popeyes and Chicago experiencing something of a pollo frito renaissance last summer. But diga me, once I put this shit into law there will be no more fried chicken ‘fads” only beachfront vacations in Guantanamo Bay for anyone who pooh-poohs perhaps These United States of North American’s most significant contribution to childhood obesity, I mean our big-fat-ol’-democratic-collective gut.


Yeah, while last summer when every last foodie and Yelper had been sent running to what from all reports and jpegs looks like fried chicken’s answer to The Shake Shack’s cheeseburger  I chose to explore those deep fired establishments that only make it into the Red Eye Crime Tracker inexplicably ignored in a survey 2013).


Actually, I started checking out these fried chicken shacks , hatchets and all, last winter. I work a swing shift down in the Loop and decent eats are slim pickens


Mira: I am not here to report of my starting the pollo frito trend – among others: The Return of the Rat Tail 2014 – as this blog is mostly committed to both exposing local poseurs and passable purveyors of Az/Chi/Mex comida. Which, as is my practice, brings us in the most meanderingly roundabout way to Chick-Fil-a.


Fried chicken re-flavored forever the epicurial zeitgeist and went from posh to pop the day Chick-Fil-a’s Loop location finally unhinged its rotating glass doors. At the corner of State and Lake where once stood bummed out OTB losers now sit  wide-eyed fried foul feeders, snackin’ as blissed out on yard bird as the Yard Bird was ever blissed out on smack.


Am I the only ex-smoker who sorta wonders where the heck Big Tobacco’s dark and evil forces fled? And am I also the only ex-smoker who thinks perhaps Phillip, RJ and the rest sold their “trade secrets” (READ: highly addictive chemical additives – big fat ol’ democratic collective nicotine vats) to fellow Southerners Chick-Fil-a?

For real, I now must walk away from this blog for a smoke. I’ve had to take up smoking again if only to curb the Chick-fil-a  cravings. I’ve lost weight, am notably bitchier and was doing fine there for a stretch until last Saturday. 7-11 was out of American Spirits and I was early enough for work to pop into Chick-fil-a for breakfast.


Okay, so the smoking thing is a bullshit excuse, a lie I tell myself so I can eat something I wouldn’t blog. This for me defeats the whole purpose of trying anything I haven’t made at home and amazing. I can’t blog every meal but I do pretty much eat Az/Chi/Mex exclusively. The only real exceptions are when my wife cooks or buys and hot dogs. I was raised believing that eating out was a special occasion – until our mom bought a hoagie and pizza restaurant  that flipped the whole equation and I’ve been foodily fcked since.


See what not smoking or eating Chic-file-t does to a brain? (It makes for really poor spelling by cows for one thing.) Look, I was as blown away as the next SouthWesterner my first bite of a breakfast burrito made with eggs, shredded hasbrowns, not my favorite selection of peppers (bell/red) and onions, cheese and HOLY SHIT ARE THOSE FRESHLY FRIED CHICKEN CHUNKS!??!. Yeah, I know I rocked that all caps thing last blog, but seriously, I was ready to rush to the bank, then the store for some sans-e-belt slacks, and call in sick to gorge myself silly on what outside of Taco Bell and my beloved Jack-in-the-Box is the closest approximation to a gringo/Az/Mex mix I might slather into a tortilla at home.  I may even have shouted  afore all-capped words aloud. Addiction can do strange things to a man.

Not really sure. I was so tuned into my headphones/ear muffs to notice. Had cued up for the grubbing:

NOTE: Should you choose a Chick-fil-a ‘habit’ and choose the burrito before moving on the hot chicken bisquit (hell if I’ll ever be able to spell that word) I had also ordeded and you will too – trust me – root around the bag before inhaling. Chick-fil-a, purveyors of not simply nicotine chicken, also offer a selection of additional nicotine delivery vehicles that come in the way of sauces all for the dipping and slathering. Just so the lowly burrito would not feel left out, they’ve designed a damn fine jalapeno salsa. Foolishly, I did not discover this until I was down to my last bite. On my return visit the next day I asked for a few more packs of salsa for future reference.

Thankgivukka Tamale Take Down Dos

22 Nov

Thanksgiving Hanukkah

Thanksgivukka under a week off = the countdown is on: only a few thousand trips to the mall and/or hits on till The Holiday of All Holidays: LBJ Day. Meaning: a deluge of noel, and if I’m a good enough gringo: Tamales!

The Mexican-American Navidad tamale tradition dates back to I don’t know when and has its origins on Wikipedia, or should. Google it. And while all during December tamales are easier to score in AZ y NM than a (insert vice here) at Washington Square Park in early 1980s NYC, finding enough quality dozens to get me through to 2014 in and around the Great Lakes may require a Xmas miracle.

The tamale quest began the moment I touched down on the concrete shores of Lake Michigan resulting in the earlier Tamale Take-Down missive wherein Chicago, yet again, surprised me with several tasty masa missiles. My ground maize munchies mission never abated, time and despot (read: 1 y.o. son) permitting, I stalked both parking lots and grocer’s shelves. Then along came Rick Bayless and sorta ruined everything, rendering me hopeless. Rather than bemoan the Mexican Martha Stewart, for now at least, I’ll just list the latest Christmas contenders – and in Rick’s case epic failures – if only to report a hella lotta masa gonna have to make sweet love to this lengua before it starts singing the praises any tamale worthy the manger.




Available a finer grocery stores:

photo 4

Hormel Canned Tamales

I may not have yet paid off my guaranteed government student loans making this next word valued at roughly $30K: versimilitude. This palabra is little more than film school palaver (hence the lingering undergraduate debt) and popped up the instant I popped a hot Hormel tamale into my mouth. Film scholars (read: snobs) use the term (I purposely misspelled to undermine/irritate said snobs) to describe the difference between what you hear or see on the big screen vs. what you hear or see in real life.

Example: gunshots in movies sound nothing like the real thing, and yet, wholly unrealistic we accept them to be a perfectly suitable version of reality.

Enter stage right: Hormel Tamales (w/cottage cheese)

photo 3_1

FICTION: These lovely rolls, wrapped in wax paper and swimming in a zesty chili broth have not changed in flavor, style, texture (or price) in at least 30 years. Would not surprise me if this can had an American bicentennial born-on date. Since discovering Jewel stocks Hormel tamales among the canned meats and Franco American products, all told I’ve eaten about a dozen cans, all consistently consistent in tasting like what one would imagine a tamale tastes like in a movie. Which is really all we as of canned goods, isn’t it?

REALITY: Give the hungry a real gift this holiday. Let’s agree that instead of tossing another cobwebbed creamed corn or dusty can of SPAM into the company food drive box, we’ll pony up a couple bucks for a can (or three) of these unrealistically rico treats. I’m fairly certain tamales would make anyone’s holiday a heck of a lot brighter than say, lima beans.


photo 5


My inner Columbo detects that these are the same “delta” tamales purchased at Chicago hot dog/Italian beef landmarks I’d blogged semi-passionately about prior. A bargain at 2 for a buck in the frozen food aisle, not quite as fine as Hormel when it comes to masa and meat, these nuke-able, sticky, sweet and “is that cinnamon?” tubes – I’m guessin’ here – are to “the real thing” (though I’ve yet to eat a Chicago/Delta tamale) as Sunny Delight is to orange juice: better with a splash of Cuervo but better not to go without. Would strongly recommend NOT leaving these out for St. Nick.


 Available in a West Town church parking lot

photo 1


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For the sake of finding a way into our next tamale set, sticking to the theme of justifying a degree in film production, let’s imagine a remake of Old Yeller, only in this Sarah McLaughlin approved update, Yeller isn’t a lab but a loyal, beloved bicycle. And in place of the boy – I’m guessing here  (confession: never seen or read the classic tale of poochicide) is a blogger of middling-indeterminate age who learns that said bike – whose name was actually El Pollo Fuego Amarillo  – is well, “Old Yeller”: sick way past fixin’:

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Cut to: said character fighting back great big Brian’s Song/Old Yeller sized tears upon asking to “have a moment” (and photo shoot) before sending this inanimate object said blogger harbored an unhealthy and unnatural fondness for over 20 years off to the scrap heap.


(Back story: Such was his attachment that he put off having a bike mechanic deliver the news of EPFA’s inoperable condition for the final 5 of those 20 years, choosing to take his chances on a bike without brakes, perpetually stuck in a single gear. Don’t call it a fixie,. Not only did EPFA look nothing like one of them anorexic beach cruiser/hipster-mobiles, really it had no brakes.)


Back to the Old Yeller (the remake): a montage of biking through the Rocky Mountains, around the Mall in DC, Manhattan to Coney Island, Tempe, Seattle, and finally Chicago to a soundtrack of Queen: ‘Bicycle Race’ seguing into ‘He’s my Best Friend’.

Cross-fade into the present and a final ride around the bike shop slash crematorium where thanks to the magic of the movies a pop-up tamale stand run by a Mexican couple who haven’t the foggiest what “pop up” even means attempt to wave down said bicyclist for a free sample of their homemade tamales.

Unable to stop said bicyclist flies past, nearly side-swiped by a van full of Korean 7th Day Adventists, circling around and back another block – the street is one way – hoping, no praying this was no mirage and that he’ll slow down enough to come to a stop – that they haven’t sold out – for this last supper/holy communion.

As luck, fate and fortune would have it – for his faithfulness to his bike? – he scores the last dozen: 6 red and 6 green, inhaling all but two (for another photo shoot) on the pedal back to the shop.

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Due to the emotionally charged events leading up to the score I am still unable to recall any flavors but the salt of my tears of joy/sadness. The photo-documentation suggests these tamales were nothing short of effing awesome.

I’d love to share where these tamale are sold but it turns out the stand was either a “pop-up” or act of God and/or Hollywood. Once I’d passed through Kubler-Ross’s stages I drove across Chicago for another dozen. Nobody in the barrio had ever seen such a stand, including the kids who worked at the bike shop slash cemetary. They did remember to laughed and call me Old Yeller.

photo 1


Frontera Fresco (Located in the Macy’s formerly known as Marshall Field’s – Floor 7)

As a resident of Chicago, I would like nothing more than to have Rick Bayless bowl me over with his promised/branded authentic flavors of the Mexican cooking so familiar and dear and neccessary  to me for my for survival. And yet having eaten at all three of outlets of the Bayless empire I can say without concertation – even though I’m not sure what that word means – or hesitation that Senor Bayless – in my blog at least – is killing me. I kept my silence on this for over a year now, perfectly content leaving reviews of Frontera Grill and his neighboring comida de calle parlor to the misguided (and well-heeled) Yelpers. But after having hucked into the garbage the two tamales served to me at the Frontera Fresco, I gotta fire up the old SAT analogy generator and suggest that Rick Bayless is to Mexican comida tipica as Will Ferrell is to, well, mira:


Mira, tamales are the one food I know I will never make well enough to pass for the real thing. And so I’ve braved Oaxacan earthquakes, Palenque floods, South Phoenix gunfire, Coors country blizzards, a Veracruz wild animal park monkey attack and even Zapatistas in Chiapas for the culinary wonder than is the tamale: some sublime, some subpar, one with a bone in it where the black olive should be.


Mira again, my mission isn’t one of looking for bragging rights here. I am not an expert. I simply love tamales and expect them to love me back and would take a bullet for them. As a resident of Chicago, I would like nothing more than to have Rick Bayless bowl me over with tamales familiar and dear and necessary to me for my for survival in the corazon of the Loop, especially since the ridiculous law/regulations vs. the food trucks have placed tamales out of the realm of my tracking one down on my hour-long lunch break (yeah, thanks for that one Rammel).  An yet, Bayless instead breaks my heart with this hot mess:

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Notice anything wrong with this picture? Probably not. That’s because these tamales may very well have been prepared by a food stylist. How else can one explain the fact that the masa was flat out uncooked. No caca. Goopy, gluey, and bleeping gross. Grits are less runny, and oh yeah, actually edible. Why, might you ask, did I not exchange the tamales? Have the kitchen “heat em up” for me? Complain to the management? The answer mi amigos lies in this video – which I suggest Senor Bayless loop in the kitchen at the Frontera Fiasco in Macy’s (Hint: my break is only an hour).


On a much happier note:



The 2013 Chi-town Tamale Take Down v.1

1 Apr


Second only to torts on this old gringo’s Proustian palate do tamales get down.  Tortillian ingestion conjures up a cross fade to high school lunch room antics: government issued bean and cheese burros tastefully appointed with dollops of catsup (try a 7-11 Bomb with Heinz non-believers), serrated dill pickle slices flying lessons, pubic girl terror. All Mexican foods served BITD @ Marcos De Niza (incluso explosive bean tostados) were factory-like and yet quite authentic; handmade, as they were, by robust abuelas.


Possiblamente because Marcos never served them, tamales bringing on teenage kick flashbacks para mi estamos about as Mexican as Doritos. The masa/meat bombs of my youth swam in a pool of red grease, were dressed in wax paper & canned by Chef Dinty Moore over at Hormel Meats. Image Truth speaker here: Much as I try to make myself out born with a silver switchblade in mi voca loca, I didn’t actually taste a tamale ticpico Mexicano until I moved closer to the land where all these holy platas began; this being Tucson in my late 20s. A slight, quiet undocumented hombre pushed his abulea’s red and green tamales out of a stolen shopping cart in the parking where I worked at a bookstore stocking used porn. Again: Used. Porn.


Eaten out of convenience (6 for $3), in the shade, sans salsa, these masa missiles played out a hot, sticky, greasy cancione on yer taste buds so fina we actually convinced the Tucson Weekly to plug ‘em in their annual “Best of…” issue as the “reader’s choice”. Viva Shopping Cart Tamales!


Like many a gringo – much to the amusement of the afore-blogged tamale purveyor  – I went at the corn husk wrapper ‘till my jaw cramped and my gums bled, finally giving up and squeezing the masa/meat mush out like a FIinstones push-up with the same swagger and shame of a face plant survivor.


Even once I smartened up enough to stop eating the husk this mouth stayed unsold/unconvinced/unaddicted/unagape. Tamales just seemed, well, like too much work both to cook and to eat (you have to steam them through like three meals AND you have to be someone’s abuela – that’s another 25 years right there). Even as a college student at the time, estupidly, my stomach and cabeza never connected labor con love. (I am adopted).


Which brings me back to my adopted Chicago – where all appetites lead – to paraphrase Scarface: “This city is a giant hot dog waiting to be eaten”  – here – with Red Eagle tort stock – at an all-time high – I set out to – hopefully – to rekindle my love – albeit adopted – for tamales – and abuse – within a blog – the n-dash.


In the Windy City/Blooming Onion/City of Big Shoulders/2nd City/Hog Butcher of the World/ to name just a few of its appellations, to paraphrase the lovely Cowgirl Clare in The Blues Brothers, “We got both kinds of tamales: Mexican and American.” Tamales are sold in grocery stores and at hot dog/Italian Beef stands. Tamales can be found on food trucks, in Marshall Field’s/Macys’ on State Street and in front of churches. Fresh tamales are on the grocer’s shelf near the deli, frozen in Trader Jose’s freezer aisle and on and on and you don’t stop. Rapture. Mira, there are so many friggin tamales outlets here I’m thinkin it might be time Chicago took on another nickname….but as the blog tag sez, “Too much thinking can ruin a good meal.” Back-story: a non-Wikipeadia history of the Delta/El Norte tamale:


(Should sites for equally wonderfully vernacular foodstuffs launch the Information Superhighway/Internet/World Wide Web/God might one day live up to its billing.) Image Anyway… This partial (both meanings) list of the eats shouldn’t serve as a guide so much as a beauty pageant and reminder of where I’ve tamaled, since I don’t care to repeat myself even though I do repeat myself and am currently cognitively impaired via sleep deprivation con mi El Nino Oscar who hopefully one day will share my love of masa – he’s not adopted and quite a bit of labor = love – and wheel me out for a Mother-In-Law Sandwich, which as it looks like remembering my choppers to down one of these South Side jewels is optional.


All pre-made, store bought Mexi-Ts are wrapped in inedible cornhusks while the Deltas arrive in either tin foil or waxy paper. Both require the same re-cooking time, being premade off-premise: roughly a minute in the microwave per tamale in ozone depleting plastic grocery bag for the store bought. The Deltas too get nuked.  Then served. From Chicago Hot Dog/Beef Stands:

Image Nicky’s Hot Dogs  The first Delta tamale I tried lives on the West Side and on the “Sides” section of the menu @ Nicky’s near Midway Airport.  Figuring this wax paper tube for a novelty I didn’t bother with an iPhoto. While the dog was a slight disappointment the tamale definitely gave dormant neurons from the 70s a jolt. The masa was gritty like grits but good and sweet, nicely contrasted against the red-hot chili power ground beef. Perhaps a bit too crumbly for my fork. (Note: flatware is recommended these Delta tubes are served up lava hot.) Portillo’s Word auto-corrects the name of this Chi-town legend to Portfolios that would not be a bad nickname in this city of nicknames. Ever so diverse, Portillo’s hits every corner of Chicago-style eats. It’s like the perfect Mutual Fund of Second City sustenance. Which is why when I stole off to feed a late evening post-pregnancy Italian beef craving lo and behold tamales here too were offered as a “side”. Tempted, as I was to slap the tamale into the beef – re-booting the gym shoe: The Gym Boot? – I instead ate it separately, dilettantely, with a spoon, the spoon used only to protect my fingers from the heat. Not crumbly tat all, fillipin’ sticky, firm and dulce masa perfection (again, grittier than its primo down yonder).  And hey, do I detect, cloves & all spice? Cincinnati chili enthusiasts be warned. Chicago may not have a 100+ MPM Cuban freak for a closer – yet – but throw this tamale on a pile of spag, add cheese, beans…so I guess what I’m getting at is why I get they’re sides: what Delta Tamales possess in a flavorful smack down they do lack in filler-up-ness. Better to make your next order a dozen.



Al’s Beef Feasting on my third trip down to the sides section of a dog/beef stand menu to the Delta for a tamale I stopped and thought: is it possible these are all made off premise in the same factory? Because like the tamale from Nicky’s, this one came in its own packaging: Nicky’s: Proustian/kitchy wax paper, Al’s: The Graduate/flesh melting plastic. While Al’s beef has a certain sumpin/sumpin (anise? clove? sweat? = seriously sublime) the tamale was so mediocre in both flavor and texture I chose not to have insulted the beef by bedding the two together.  The trash bin finished this tamale for me. Image


Ahora, on to el versions del los Mexicanos, from the grocer’s shelf: Ponchos (hecho en Chicago) Because these are cooked, then cooled, then shipped, then cooled then bought, then cooked again  (nuked by el gring@) one might expect a flavor and texture let down. I did/had. Not the case in the slightest bit ahora. Poncho’s can throw down con the best of them: these tamale estamos El Santo del Lucha Lengua Libre del Chicago. (I like mine with scrabbled eggs and coffee for almuerza). I can only speak for the pork, that is. No fan of shredded beef tamales eso yo: meat a bit too stringy and purple for this hombre. Gimme ground round from the cow every time por favor/gracias.



Trader Jose’s Image I possess neither a special love nor hate for TJ’s, yet, his foodstuffs continue to get blogged regularly. This is because, why? Twice I’ve holed up in an area lacking anything near close to what I’d considered passable Az-Mex goods: DC. Mostly the Latin@ goods available around the beltway cater to the area’s sizable El Salvadorian population: pupusas, pollos, machetes, etc. So I’d hit up TJ’s for torts when in need of an AzMex dopamine release. Not until Chicago did I finally try their tamales and really only for the purpose of this blog. Why? To confirm that Poncho’s rule. And rule they do. Like much of what TJ’s sells for reheating and eating, their tamales posses – to this palate – the frozen, leftover flavor familiar anyone whose dined on burros, taquitos and Banquet dishes available in your grocer’s freezers everywhere. (Note: I love HDTV diners as much as the next dude. Just expect more from TJs.) Image

In closing: so far so much further to go. Still to take down: tamale trucks, tamale stands and Rick Bayless. Sing us away Prime Mates….