During my many trips to Tamales Moreno, I couldn't help but wonder about all the crowds packing into Tamale Kitchen right across the street. What was I missing?
One day last week, I decided to find out. It was lunchtime, and the boxy building was, as usual, packed with people: in the parking lot, in the plastic booths in the dining room in back, at the counter. I joined that group and took in Tamale Kitchen's massive menu, which includes shrimp cocktail and Mexican egg rolls along with a long list of burritos and tacos. I went for tamales, skipping the special cheese-and-jalapeño version touted on the display board for the classic blend of pork and green chiles.
The man at the counter barked my order in Spanish to the massive and efficient-looking team of cooks behind him, and almost before I could pay, he was handing me a neat, paper-wrapped packet of tamales so fresh out of the steamer that I thought my hands were going to sustain third-degree burns. I grabbed a seat, unwrapped a tamale and started eating. These tamales were much more uniform in appearance than those at Tamales Moreno. And they were also uniformly boring. The pork was sparse, the chiles hardly hot, and the masa nearly flavorless — although it had a good texture to start. By the time I got to the last tamale, though, the masa was bordering on gummy, as if it had oversteamed in the package. This Tamale Kitchen is one of three owned by Juan Bishop, who started them in 1981. The others you see around town are all franchises. And if you're in a tamale-starved area, a stop at Tamale Kitchen is a decent, if dull, option. But at Sheridan and Mississippi, I'll go for Tamales Moreno every time.