When we moved down here five years ago, there were tamale carts on every corner, tamale carts in every parking lot, tamale carts at the park, and tamale carts on the playing fields.

Every market had its tamale cart beside the entrance. Even the local barbershop had a cart. I could walk a block in any direction and eat tamales from a cart. Then, all of a sudden, they disappeared. Which is okay, since they ­weren’t very good in the first ­place.

I ordered some tacos and tamales from the Old Town El Indio one day about a year ago when I was passing by — high-priced, not delicious. There are different kinds of tamales; my neighbors from Nayarit make them different than my neighbors from Guanajuato. ­Wasn’t loving them, either ­style.

The thing about tamales is they are labor intensive; to get the best results they ­shouldn’t be mass produced. What happens is people try to make large batches of tamales fast. If you ­don’t take the time to make them right, they ­won’t turn out right, ­that’s all there is to ­it.

My grandmother made tamales every Christmas. Hers were Tex-Mex style: smallish and rectangular, smooth corn dough, shredded pork in red chili sauce, folded cornhusks. The preparations began early; my grandfather would order a pig head in early December. My grandmother would start buying dried cornhusks, dried chili pods (two kinds, New Mexico and California), and other things that would keep. ­She’d sort the husks and the chili pods and put them aside for soaking. On Christmas Eve morning, when it was time to get going, ­she’d get out her big tamale pots, her meat pots, her cornhusk and corn-dough tubs. The corn dough was brought in and prepared to taste, the cornhusks soaked, the head and additional meat cooked and shredded, the sauce prepared with the different chili pods. One or two friends and her sister-in-law helped with the preliminary ­work.

When all that was done, it was time to assemble the tamales. By then it would be late afternoon; friendly calls would go out. The house would start to fill with family and their company, friends and their family and company, and neighbors and their family and company. My grandfather would serve up Coke-and-whiskeys, or rompope, homemade eggnog he made himself spiked with cane alcohol snuck across the border from Tijuana. The men would stand around the kitchen, the women slapped and smeared corn dough on husks, and my grandmother doled the meat into the dough, folded the tamales, and put them into pots to steam on the stove. There was music, people talking louder and louder and laughing, singing, and my grandmother trying to keep the corn-dough women in order, struggling to be heard. The kitchen was fragrant with the smell of cooking ­tamales.

Eventually somebody got too drunk and did something funny and that really got the party rolling. By the time the first batches of tamales were cooked and people started eating and drinking hot coffee or champurrado, it was a great Christmas Eve. Starting that evening and going through days until the tamales ran out, everyone would drop by for tamales, eating them there as they came off the stove and taking some home. My grandmother always tried to keep count of how many tamales were made but never could do better than estimate. We made something like 500 tamales every ­year.

If you like Tex-Mex style tamales, I can recommend one guy who makes excellent ones. He sells them at the Memorial [Park] playing fields on Sundays when the teams are playing. You can get fair tamales at a cart in front of Rancho Fresco on César Chávez and National Avenue. You can get okay tamales in the cold weather at ­McCord’s Bakery on 30th and National. And you can get so-so tamales at Las Cuatro Milpas on César Chávez and Logan ­Avenue.

Las Cuatro Milpas has been around so long, my grandparents ate there when they worked at the tuna cannery. After my grandfather passed away and my grandmother stopped cooking, I started going there more often when I wanted a bowl of beans and rice or some tacos. Las Cuatro Milpas makes its tortillas on site — corn and flour — there in your view at the back of the store. You can buy packages of fresh, hot tortillas when they have them; they often run out by midday. The lines are long at breakfast and lunch, but if you go after the rush — say, nine in the morning or two in the afternoon — you can get in without too much ­waiting.

Las Cuatro Milpas has a really limited menu. Pork tamales, tacos (beef or chicken), burritos (beef or chicken), beans and rice, chorizo with egg. ­That’s it. You can have the tacos flat or rolled. When you order flat tacos, they drop the shells into a pan of hot grease for a few seconds, take them out, and fill them with shredded meat, shredded lettuce, and grated Mexican cheese. Rolled tacos, they drop the tacos into the pan, take them out, and cover them with shredded lettuce, tomato salsa, sour cream, and grated Mexican cheese. If you like your tacos fried, those are ­good.

I read about this place on 31st and National, Tacos el Paisa, so I went there to see what they were about. You stand in line outside to order your food. They have a row of little glass barrels filled with iced aguas frescas, drinks made from tamarindo, jamaíca, horchata, melon, pineapple, and my all-time favorite, strawberry. Next to the drink stand is the grill where they keep the beans warm and grill chilies, huge gueritos and jalapeños, and sliced onions. You order the kind of tacos you want — carne asada, carnitas, chicken, adobado, cabeza, tripa — then you either wait for it as a take-out order or you sit down inside the open-door restaurant or on the patio. The waitress brings you your drink, a tray of appetizers, a plate of grilled onions and chilis, and a cup of the beans — which are cooked just right, and you can get seconds if you ask. The tacos come a minute later. They are hot and fresh — the tortillas are soft corn, filled with generous servings of meat, sprinkled with fresh chopped onions and cilantro. You can add toppings from the appetizer tray. Delicious, and not at all expensive. The drinks are two bucks; the tacos, less than two bucks each. The only drawback is they play radio music full blast.

Oh, one other thing, same as with Las Cuatro Milpas: flies. You have to wave your hand over your food to keep them from landing on your food. Oh, there you go, making that face just because I mentioned flies. Please: same hand-waving technique applies when ­you’re barbecuing or having a picnic. Just deal with it. Or eat your tacos at Jack in the Box, Del Taco, Burger King, Taco Bell, or any other hermetically sealed fake-o taco place on the planet. No flies, no ­flavor.

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Comments

David Dodd Oct. 1, 2009 @ 7:51 p.m.

Congratulations, Ms. Fish!!! I'm proud to be your internet pal :)

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CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 7:55 p.m.

OOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

____ THUD!!!!!!!!!

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antigeekess Oct. 1, 2009 @ 8:49 p.m.

FISHYYYYYYYY!!!!!

Woo-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

:D

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CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 8:52 p.m.

I am barely picking myself up off the floor! Thanks, AG! xxx

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CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 8:54 p.m.

Now I'm just waiting for the complaints! LOLOL :)

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David Dodd Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:17 p.m.

What complaints? I never got to read this! That's one reason I'm happy that the admin isn't going to change the splash page, but lean toward giving us information we can use to access threads. Sometimes, like if five or six people post in the same day, I miss an entry.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this and totally concur about tamales. And the tacos. I have my favorite taco carts here in Tijuana, and my favorite tamale vendors, I don't switch unless they go away. And my suegra makes tamales every Christmas Eve, by hand, eaten at midnight. And posole. The posole lasts for DAYS...

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CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:22 p.m.

Re the threads being missed: Exactly! If they're bumped off the home page (is that what you call splash?) by a new thread, I don't see them unless I check the blog home page. And forget seeing them on the neighborhood blog page, that thing has no reference points whatever. There's blogs on there that haven't been added to in years. Still, I have to go there sometimes to keep up with a thread that's been active. Every so often I check my blog page to see if anyone has added posts to an old thread. Shouldn't be like that. Have to find a way to access new threads, and active threads, without all this work.

And thanks for the kind words re the thread!

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SDaniels Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:26 p.m.

Congratulations, Fishikins!!! I loved this story, especially the detail on your Christmases. Buy yourself a killer tamale pot! :)

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CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:36 p.m.

Thank you, SD, I was totally floored by this, no idea at all it would win! The thing is, I don't cook tamales LOL that's why I have to go out and buy them, my grandmother made them, but I never learned. :(

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FullFlavorPike Oct. 2, 2009 @ 12:03 a.m.

Fish PWNS it, hellyer! ;)

Congrats, there, you.

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FullFlavorPike Oct. 2, 2009 @ 12:04 a.m.

The peeps on Sdfixed.com were raving about Las Quatros Milpas not so long ago--must be the shizzle for rizzle....

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CuddleFish Oct. 2, 2009 @ 12:05 a.m.

Well, thank you, Sir Pike, and congratulations to yourself as well!

And of course, Sir Gringo as well.

Lift our glasses to our good fortune! Salud, amor y pesetas!

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CuddleFish Oct. 21, 2009 @ 3:36 p.m.

TO THE PERSON WHO E-MAILED ME VIA THE READER:

Sorry I can't respond to you directly unless you have a blog, but hopefully you will read this comment, as a reply to your question.

The person who sells tamales at the Memorial Playing fields is Mr. Saenz. He sells them during the adult baseball season, you can get information about that from the Memorial Recreation Center Director, 619-235-1125.

Or you can attend the Memorial Recreation Council meetings, they are on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 in the evenings. Mr. Saenz generally attends those meetings, you can talk to him directly. I emphasize generally he is at the meetings, the last two months he didn't make it due to an arm injury.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=memorial+recreation+center+san+diego&aq=f&oq=&aqi=

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ronaldpoe86 Oct. 28, 2009 @ 2:29 p.m.

I really enjoyed the story! Mmm, Mmm, Mmmh now I want me some tamales! I only had Hormel tamales in the can before moving to San Diego from the Midwest, and I'm not Hispanic/Mexican (African American), so I may not be the expert on the subject, but I'm gonna' tell you where the good tamales are. I don't have exact addresses, so roll with me. The first two are in City Heights. One is in front of the Mini-Mart on University just before you hit the 1-15 Highway.It's next to an Auto Zone Parts store and next to that big new yellow building/adult center.The other is in front of the Mini-Mart on El Cajon next to a car wash and cata-corner to Church's Chicken.The third is on Market in front of a Mexican restaurant. It's across from the Black Sabbath Motorcycle Club and just before the 805 Freeway.I ain't been to all the stands, but these are the best I've had.

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CuddleFish Oct. 28, 2009 @ 3 p.m.

Thanks for that, ronaldpoe, I will check those out! :)

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CuddleFish Oct. 28, 2009 @ 11:43 p.m.

Yes, Hormel makes them. They are actually not bad.

Heat them up, add salt and hot salsa, they are decent to eat. Better than a lot of tamales you buy at the store or in restaurants.

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Joe Poutous Oct. 29, 2009 @ 5:03 a.m.

Congrats! I think that you are my new favorite writer.

I sure miss the tamales that my dad's aunts would make for special occasions. Beef with raisins were my favorite...

There was an SD Reader front page story a while back that inspired some friends and me to do this: http://tacofriday.blogspot.com

that reader sroty: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...

I have to start doing Taco Friday again. First place I hit is this: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mariscos-german-taco-truck-3-san-diego

It's 5:02 AM and I want a taco! - Joe

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SDaniels Oct. 29, 2009 @ 6:56 a.m.

Joe! 'Splainin' to do, mister! Why have you not told us about Taco Friday before?

http://tacofriday.blogspot.com

Ranchos Cucina: You cannot forget the vegetarian mole, because it is rare to find, and it is the real deal--have forgotten what region it is from, but it is amazing and authentic. I talked to one of the owners, and she said her grandmother makes huge batches each week--always from scratch. Everything we've eaten here has been excellent--thank god there is a North Park location, too.

I think anytime is taco time. ;)

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CuddleFish Oct. 29, 2009 @ 7:31 a.m.

Girl, you're right about that, anytime is taco time!!

Thanks for those links, Joe, I hadn't seen those articles. Pretty comprehensive review. I will have to check out some of those places. It's pretty easy to get stuck in a rut, when you have the two best places for tacos in your neighborhood. I can walk to Los Paisas for wet soft tacos, and drive a minute away to Las Cuatro Milpas for hard fried tacos. I'm good either way!

But it's always good to try something new, thanks!

Oh, and thanks for the compliment!!!

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Joe Poutous Oct. 29, 2009 @ 8:01 a.m.

SD - the last entry on that blog eas over a year ago... we ran it for a while and it just kind of petered out. I think it's time to start it up again!

'Fish - Ever try La Fashada? It's right in your 'hood (corner of Commercial and 25th)Really good Carnitas, really good Cabasa. The fried onions are tasty, too.

Hands down the best Adobado I have found is at Tacos Gordo in Chula Vista... you guys have to try that place (not you SD - all meat, no pescado).

  • Joe
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SDaniels Oct. 29, 2009 @ 8:06 a.m.

Tacos Gordo...Was that place covered in the Ed Bedford article? Sounds familiar. No pescado? For shame!

I'm always on the hunt for the 'best' fish taco ever. Any suggestions, you two Drs. Taco?

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CuddleFish Oct. 29, 2009 @ 8:10 a.m.

A good friend of mine owns that La Fachada property, Joe! I've eaten there once or twice, yes the food is good!

Will try Tacos Gordos, I am in Chula Vista quite a bit on weekends. My grandfather's brother had his house on Arizona Street, just behind the Earl Scheibs.

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Joe Poutous Oct. 29, 2009 @ 8:19 a.m.

It's Tacos El Gordo... http://tacofriday.blogspot.com/2008/05/week-4-tacos-el-gordo.html

From the Yelp pix Marisco's German Taco Truck looks damn good for fish. There is another taco truck, but I don't know the name. It is parked behind this liquor store (sorry for the amazingly long link) http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&safe=off&q=i905+and+i5+san+diego&ie=UTF8&ll=32.567793,-117.063017&spn=0,359.965453&z=15&layer=c&cbll=32.567718,-117.062993&panoid=OUaFc-zj3YXoH_9i65FoqQ&cbp=12,242.42,,0,0.17

Killer Marlin Tacos! - Joe

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CuddleFish Oct. 29, 2009 @ 8:31 a.m.

Ah! Unfortunately, Joe, the Fish doesn't eat fish.

I developed a sensitivity to fish when I was pregnant with my son, and can't eat it anymore. :( I miss it so much, used to eat fish all the time, especially when we went south of the border.

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SDaniels Oct. 29, 2009 @ 9:21 a.m.

Fishikins don't eat fish? Why, might I ask, did you go for the fish screen name, if you are allergic to fish? Nostalgia?

Yes, the German truck tacos looked mighty fine and generous on that Yelp pic--but so far away--wish we had one closer. Mainly a liquid diet right now; this convo is driving me cuh-razy...:)

Joe, if you can think of anything closer to home for fish tacos --in the downtown/Hillcrest/Banker's Hill areas, that is--

We still haven't tried Mama Testa's, the place on University that is supposed to be the best around. It was featured on a Food Network show, where the owner did a fish taco throwdown with Bobby Flay, and won...

http://www.yelp.com/biz/mama-testa-san-diego

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CuddleFish Oct. 29, 2009 @ 9:40 a.m.

LOL Nostalgia!

Awwww, poor kid, you must be awful hungry. :(

We will have a big party when you're all better and eat all your favorite foods!

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Joe Poutous Oct. 29, 2009 @ 10:12 a.m.

I like fish tacos, but I don't search them out. My real passions are Carnitas and Al Pastor when it comes to tacos.

Good beans are important, too. (with REAL lard)

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CuddleFish Nov. 16, 2009 @ 11:17 a.m.

As a follow-up to the Tamales, Tacos, Flies thread, this is the gentleman who sells tamales at Memorial Park on weekends. He says if you call him, he will also make arrangements to sell to you, or special make tamales for you. I don't think he speaks English, but you can try!

They are quite delicious! Enjoy! :)

Mr. Sainz (619) 250-4442

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nan shartel March 7, 2010 @ 3:13 p.m.

oh tasty fishykins...i missed this before...HIP HIP HOORAY for u fishy taco and now i want one!!!

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CuddleFish March 7, 2010 @ 3:29 p.m.

Oooh, nan, I would love some tacos about now, but it's raining and cold and I don't want to venture out! Glad you liked this thread! :)

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Grasca April 19, 2010 @ 8:01 p.m.

El Comal is also a great place in North Park, family run, and formerly near Gabriel's tortillas (best in town) and Panchita's Bakery(Golden Hill location). There is an El Comal in Chula Vista but I have not eaten there. The BBQ goat (chivo) is beyond good. Drooling as I type. El Indio is not great but one step or town above Jack in the Box. The real insiders know where the best Mexican food is. Also, Tony's Jacal in Del Mar (which is an institution since the 1940's) is worth a trip north in my opinion.

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CuddleFish April 19, 2010 @ 8:31 p.m.

Oh, I think there's an El Comal on Imperial Avenue, near where my grandmother lived, if I am not mistaken, I have never eaten there, though. Gabriel's tortillas are delicious hot off the griddle, and Panchita's is very good, great Pan de Tres Leches cake.

But you must try Las Cuatro Milpas, Grasca, and tell me what you think. And also Los Paisas, both of those places are mentioned in the article, with directions. Thanks for your comments, nice to have you in the neighborhood blogs! :)

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Tallsharon July 23, 2011 @ 8:35 a.m.

I'm a little behind the crowd (by a few years) but I love this post. I grew up near east Los angeles and my sister's high school boyfriend brought us his mom's tamales every Christmas. I was so infatuated I begged for the recipe in Herr head, and wrote it down. I was so intimidated by the detail -pages and pages- that I never made it myself. I was much younger and a much less experienced cook. Maybe it's time to break out that recipe from Willy Gago's mom and see what happens. UM...I hope!

thanks

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