Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: The Tamale Place
The Tamale Place
5242 Rockville Road, Indianapolis IN 46224 (map); 317-248-9771
The Short Order: Freshly made tamales with great salsas.
There have been a surprising number of Indianapolis posts cropping up here as of late, which would have been much appreciated when I actually lived there for a summer. While I was suffering in one of the cities many chain restaurants, I missed out on true finds like Workingman's Friend, Maria's, and Shapiro's Deli. I'm not sure if it's fate or what, but on a recent trip down to Circle City, I found another place I'd like to add to the list.
The Tamale Place makes some of the best Mexican food I've had in Indianapolis, and they do it for cheap. While most Mexican places in Indy claim their authenticity with over-sized margaritas and burritos as big as your head, this little storefront on the west side does so by focusing intensely on a particular street food that can get overlooked in the Mexican cuisine conversation.
The stand is the project of a husband-and-wife team (she's American, he's Mexican) who, along with the husband's mother, kick out some genuinely delicious tamales.
A tamale, when made right, is all about celebrating corn. The masa and fillings are wrapped up in the corn husks or banana leaves, then steamed, usually in a pot with even more husks. They come out oddly light and aromatic, fragrant from chilies, and filled with perfectly tender meat. It's a perfect mobile meal. Considering my home state of Indiana is covered in corn, I'm still amazed this isn't our state dish.
They have a wide range of fillings, from chicken with tomatillo sauce, to spicy pork in a red chile sauce. They only make so many a day, and when they are out, they are out. The hardest part about coming here is figuring out which kind to try.
The first one I tried was the poblano and cheese stuffed in a corn tortilla. The cheese was gooey and creamy, but not overpowering. The chile was roasted and still firm, with some great heat.
The pork with red sauce, was rustic and dark, which balanced perfectly with the slightly sweet masa. They even sold these little "Cuban" tamales, that were cute, if not quite as good.
My favorite was actually the pork with red chile sauce tamale wrapped in a banana leaf. The leaf haunted the masa, giving it almost complex citrus tone. It was a million miles from these plastic wrapped, ground beef filled tamales. These are the real deal.
The Tamale Place also sells tacos and nachos, too, but they seem to be on the menu more as an accommodation than anything. The tamale is king here, just as it should be.