Good things come wrapped in a corn husk. Shredded beef & chipotle tamales. Gourmet Tamales.
3616 Ocean Ranch Boulevard, Oceanside
America's finest farmers' market foodies love tamales.
I'm often fascinated by questions of authenticity when it comes to street food. Like, the way some guys will set their jaw and argue against quality in favor of traditionally greasy, cheap and eaten-standing-up snacks. Literally arguing that you can make something worse by using better quality ingredients, and by eating it out of context.
I do it too, with some degree of sentimentality. Bacon-wrapped hot dogs? Best when they cost two bucks each off a street cart after watching a live sporting event. Street tacos? Greatest off a truck for a buck apiece when I've recently surfed. Tamales? Well, there are a number of places I'd like to eat a tamale, and however insufferable a foodie I may be, it's pretty unlikely one of them would ever be at a farmers' market.
Cue Gourmet Tamales. I don't know why I'd gravitate to tamales at a farmers' market. All around are fresh greens and ripe fruit, pressed oils and live sea urchin. Why would I fill my sack with beautiful, healthy, locally grown produce then turn around and eat stewed meat wrapped in steamed masa and a corn husk? Just a sickness I suppose, but I will not be cured. I will clench my fist and insist tamales are not merely welcome but integral to the San Diego farmers' market experience.
Good luck choosing from all this.
But gourmet? Come on, we're still talking about tamales, right? The stuff served wrapped in foil by metal push carts all over the Southland? Of course we are, but we're also talking about the Mercato, Little Italy. Catt White doesn't keep bad vendors around in her Saturday Market, one of the reasons its such a favorite stop for loving couples parading their togetherness, and East Coast transplants with family visiting for the first time. And self-described foodies like me.
I filled my shopping bag with great ingredients and was drawn like a moth to the Gourmet Tamales booth. "No Lard," its sign says, which might get a rise out of the staunch traditionalist. "Gluten Free," it says. Okay, now that's just unnecessary.
The key to the greatness of Gourmet Tamales is the variety. It's got vegetarian options including spinach, feta and tomatillo; or black beans and roasted jalapeño. It's got vegan options including sweet corn and scallions; and green mole with vegetables. Hell, it's even got dessert tamales, including orange mango and pumpkin spice.
They each run $3.50 each, cash only. Yes, you can get packs of three frozen for 8 bucks apiece, but all must be the same flavor, and with 24 to choose from this somehow seems like a worse deal.
Of course, I went for the meat menu, because I needed to see these stack up against my lardy favorites — shredded beef with chipotle, and pork loin with roasted green chiles. They were delightful. The masa may not have been as rich or creamy as it would have been with lard, but I found myself willing to make this tradeoff, especially with the tasty meats and peppers giving me some spice to work with. I wish they were cheaper, and I wish I could try all of them, but I also wish I had a few more in my freezer right now. Guilt-free tamales. Who'd have thought?