Tamales were around long before Cortez and crew landed on Mexico’s shores, and they’ve been a part of the Tex-Mex canon as long as there’s been a Tex to couple to Mex. But some local entrepreneurs have decided we need to be reintroduced to the time-tested treat.
Enter Tamahli: take-out tamales are their game. Of the dozen or so versions they offer, none is quite as adventurous as most of the offerings at last spring’s Tamalada Throw-Down (top honors were won by Lisa Wong and Letty Canizales for a tamal of corn, poblano, and queso fresco, and by Jason Dady and Nick Cuellar for wild boar and a dusky pulla chile sauce), but the best among them deserve attention — starting with the Pig in a Husk and Mad Pig in a Husk.
Of the two, the non-pissed Pig is the best, the added heat of the Mad Pig lending little to an already lusty formula. Diced jalapeños do up the ante, however, in the spicier version of the chicken-and-tomatillo tamal called Green Piece. Go for the Hot Green Piece in this case. Chiles are integral to the successful Poblano with fresh corn and cheese; bean and cheese fill the so-so Been There; and well-spiced beef is the basis of the Cowboy.
Prices mostly range from $1.40 ($8.75 a dozen) to $1.60 ($9.25 a dozen), but there is one exception at $1.85 — the Oaxacan-style Holy Moley wrapped in banana leaves. Even though the mole sauce was uninspiring, the banana does impart an elusive flavor, and I’d welcome experimentation with fillings other than chicken.
The advertised lack of lard really counts for something with Tamahli’s dessert tamales, giving both the appealing First Kiss (cinnamon, vanilla, and pecans) and the sensational Sleepy Hollow (pumpkin with pie spices and golden raisins) a welcome lightness. A Sampler Combo at $8.25 will get you pretty much all the shop has to offer.