Gran Cocina Latina,

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW -

Mari­cel E. Pre­silla calls tamales “gift-wrapped pack­ages en­clos­ing cen­turies of culi­nary wis­dom.” She notes that the Spa­niards were the first to pro­vide a record of tamales, when they en­coun­tered them in Cuba in 1492. Later, in the 16th cen­tury, they found Aztecs in Mex­ico mak­ing them. Cooks filled tamales with beans or chiles for ev­ery­day eat­ing, but be­cause they were com­pact and could be made ahead, tamales were ideal food for war­riors, who en­joyed more elab­o­rate stuff­ings like meat, fish, turkey, ama­ranth, and wild cher­ries. Tamales were even con­sid­ered good enough for the gods: Il­lus­tra­tions from 16th-cen­tury Aztec manuscripts de­pict women de­liv­er­ing them to tem­ples.

The mod­ern tamale is still a won­der­ful thing: suc­cu­lent masa en­clos­ing a hunk of gooey, salty cheese or a layer of saucy chile-braised meat, all nes­tled in a bun­dle of corn husks. I’m pretty sure your deity of choice would be happy if you laid one at his or her feet.

We should feel lucky, then, to live in a town with such a wide se­lec­tion of these com­pact pack­ets of good­ness. Ask Santa Feans for their fa­vorites, and you’re likely to get as many an­swers as you have friends. The most com­mon com­bi­na­tions are red chile and pork, green chile and chicken, and green chile with cheese — some­times with veg­eta­bles or beans thrown in for good mea­sure. Tamales make an ap­pear­ance on the menus of nearly all our beloved in­sti­tu­tions — Tia Sophia’s, To­m­a­sita’s, and Atrisco, for ex­am­ple. We en­joyed Maria’s pork-laden ver­sion as well as the veg­e­tar­ian op­tion, stuffed with cheese and corn and cal­abac­i­tas. Blue Corn Café’s tamales sur­prised us with their fluffy masa, ten­der abun­dant pork, gen­er­ous stretchy cheese, and pow­er­ful chile.

Nat­u­rally, Posa’s — which has been mak­ing tamales since the 1950s — reigns supreme. The red chile pork is fatty and rich — its wrap­per glis­tened in the sun of the Za­farano Drive park­ing lot — and the masa is nearly sat­u­rated with ruby-red chile. One of their meat-free ver­sions is thor­oughly loaded with stretchy, melted, mild cheese — an ex­cel­lent bal­ance for the tongue-tin­gling green chile.

Ali­cia’s Tor­tille­ria, tucked in a tiny strip of shops around the bend from Meow Wolf, is one of Santa Fe’s hid­den gems. You can walk away with a huge bag of tor­tillas for eight bucks, and the tamales are big and steam­ing-hot. The masa of our red-chile pork tamale was soft and mild, but the meat was sparse and a lit­tle tough. The al­lur­ing aroma of a dulce tamale made us for­get those short­com­ings, though. Sea­soned with

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