The tamales are superlative: the best in town
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., June 2, 2006
1300 W. Anderson Ln., 289-9262
Monday-Saturday, 8am-8pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm
Cash only, ATM on sitewww.tamaleo.com
Billy Stoute often saw Leonor "Leo" Baños at a bus stop. After Billy repeatedly asked her out, Leo finally said yes, leading to a blissful marriage. Before her first trip home to Oaxaca in six years, Leo made a huge batch of tamales for Billy to eat during her absence, so he would save money by not eating out. He shared with friends, and they all wanted to know where they could get some more of those amazing tamales. A light bulb went off over Billy's head.
After Leo's return from Oaxaca, the couple made another huge batch and took them to First Thursday on South Congress, where they rapidly sold out. Leo and Billy knew they needed an approved kitchen to cook the tamales, so a deal was made with the old G&M Steakhouse at Sixth and Lamar.
Now they have their own place, as one side of the La Chica minimart on the corner of Gault and West Anderson. Oaxacan Tamaleo's seating capacity is 21, and the decor might best be described as homey. The menu is small, but every single item is rock-solid and delicious, and service is as friendly as one could hope for.
The tamales are superlative: the best in town (chicken with red mole, pork with green salsa, and black bean with cheese, $2.75 each, $24 per dozen; Leo sells them at the Downtown Farmers' Market on Saturdays, while Billy's son is at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market). They're banana-leaf wrapped, with a masa that's light as a feather and fillings that are rich and flavorful. The Pozole ($3 for the small bowl, $4.50 large) looked vapid until the first bite proved otherwise: an intense chicken stock with hominy and lots of hidden moist chicken underneath (it comes with a radish and cabbage salad on the side). The Caldo de Mariscos (Friday only, $4.50) is sinfully good: a rich, spicy, tomato seafood broth loaded with shrimp, crab, mussels, and clams.
Daily specials run Monday through Friday: lunch is $4.98; dinner, $6.45. We've had Monday's delightful chile relleno: a big roasted and peeled poblano stuffed with lots of gooey Oaxacan string cheese, then grilled. Wednesday's albondigas are huge beef and rice meatballs that have simmered in a garlicky tomato sauce lightly spiced with chiles. Friday's scrumptious mojo de ajo is marinated whole tilapia, with the sides scored and slathered with garlic before it's grilled on a griddle.
Tuesday is pork in green chile sauce, and Thursday is turkey in red mole sauce (sorry we haven't had those yet, but we sampled the mole and loved it: It has lots of depth and seductive chile flavor up front, with the nuts and chocolate lurking in the background). All the specials come with perfect black beans topped with white cheese, fluffy Mexican rice, tortillas, and Tamaleo's award-winning red or green salsas. Another entrée we sampled was an incredible Lamb Shoulder Barbacoa ($6.45): meltingly tender chunks of lamb that have been cooked in banana leaves, then topped with a rich, piquant seasoned lamb stock. There are limited breakfast options, as well as liquados, tamarindo and jamaica drinks, and flan for dessert.
Every dish we have tried has been dynamic and full-flavored, and overflowing with authentic Oaxacan taste. Based on price and portion size, it's the best interior Mexican meal deal in town, and once you meet Leo and Billy, you'll understand the source of the love they put into their food.