Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Tamale Place
FLOE was headed to lunch before a quick trip to the zoo today, so it sounded like a good time to try out The Tamale Place on the near west side. In a strip mall off of Rockville lies this very modest, clean and easy "dive". Since it's scheduled to be featured on Triple D this May, FLOE had high hopes and were admittedly a little giddy to give it a go.
Upon walking in, we were pleasantly surprised by the eclectic clientele. It's always a good sign to see natives of the cuisine, but this was a true melting pot. We were met at the counter by a very helpful and patient staff member. She explained how to order and approximately how much food would be enough for the 4 of us. Since they call themselves The Tamale Place, FLOE decided to forgo the tacos and nachos (although both looked excellent!) -- today it was all about the tamales.
It should be noted that tamales are not a made-to-order item. Therefore the staff makes a set number of each per day and when they're out, they're out. While it's usually a good idea to peruse the menu ahead of time, don't get your heart set on a particular style before you walk in the door. You are at the mercy of the dry-eraser board.
After a protracted examination of the menu, we chose 3 tamales and 3 sides for the 4 of us. For the tamales we opted for the Chicken Oaxacan Mole, Chipotle Chicken, and Beef with Poblano & cheese. Our sides consisted of slow cooked black beans, homemade chips and salsa & easily the best Mexican rice FLOE has ever tasted.
Since we knew neither kid was going to touch the tamales (although Stella would attempt it not knowing how spicy they might be), we quickly sated each with their favorite. Black beans for the girl & chips for the boy. We're not sure why Stella has such a love for any bean, but she always gobbles them up. In this case, we had to fight her for them as these were not your run of the mill black. We couldn't place the spices used, but the overall affect was delightful. Ozzy attempted the salsa and immediately hit his water glass. Oops. Sorry son. The cilantro hits your tongue first, but the heat came on strong at the end. While mom & dad were enjoying their tamales, Stella accidentally got a chip full of it too, resulting in some serious tears. Double oops! Thankfully this only served to accelerate her black bean intake speed...
As the kids experimented, we took in the tamales. The Chicken Mole tamale was firm yet tender, with a pleasant extra mild mole. We found it made a perfect contrast with the fiery Chipotle Chicken. The chipotle was perhaps a bit dry, but solid overall. While the masa was identical in all three, the real tamale winner was the Beef with Poblano. The meat was tender and juicy; perfect with a hit of the extra hot red salsa.
We had ordered the rice as a backup for both kids but greedily kept it for ourselves after one forkful. Yowsa! Usually a throw-away side at most mexican places, this could have been served on its own! While there was undoubtedly a heavy hand with the oil, the spicing was dead on and there was a meatiness to it that we couldn't quite place. Simply a must-have on every visit.
Price-$, All four of us ate for under $15. That's what we call Taco Bell cheap!
Atmosphere**, Very clean & well lit, but sparse and a little utilitarian.
Service****, The staff was very patient and helpful even with another couple waiting behind us.
Fred- A, This place nails it. There are no throw-away sides here. These guys mean business with every dish. I will make sure to try the tacos on my next visit. Now I just have to come up with a reason to be on the west side!
Libby-A+, Certainly the best tamales I've ever had. The best Mexican rice I've ever had. And damned good beans, chips and salsa. Just tell me when the Greenwood location is coming!!
Ozzy- B-, Definitely into the chips and wanted to try the salsa. It was just too hot. Mom & Dad should have been more cognizant of the spice with the little ones and gotten them a milder version. He might have even gone for a cheesy tamale. Oh well. Next time.
Estelle- A, Black beans = win! And the poor girl wanted to like the salsa too. But the palate isn't up to speed yet.