Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Let me ask you guys a serious question. When's the last time you were served tamales out of the back of a food truck by a pair of guys wearing lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) masks? Lucha libre? More like lunch-a libre! My jokes are getting worse. Please make them stop.
But, of course, let me explain. The Tamale Spaceship is not too much to look at at first; it's a pretty plain looking truck. But walk up to the food window you'll be greeted by two people wearing somewhat threatening looking wrestling masks. Your first reaction will either be: 1) to start crying on the spot, like me, 2) instant fear mixed with food-based intrigue, or 3) a combination of the previously mentioned reactions. Don't let the masks fool you, the folks serving the food are awesome, and they're slinging some pretty serious tamales.
I've had at least three previous experiences at the Tamale Spaceship, and my favorite has always been the Simple Rajas con Queso tamal ($7.75). Rajas are roasted poblano chiles cut into long strips, and they arrive with panela cheese, which is a fresh cow's milk cheese not too far off from Indian paneer. There are also whole kernels of corn, which add a little more texture to each bite. The roasted poblanos are soft and have that trademark bitter green chile flavor while not being terribly spicy (if at all), and the cheese is nice and salty, which helps boost up the cornmeal flavor of the masa. It's accompanied with a tomato-jalapeno salsa for added moisture, but I have to admit, I like the tamales just fine by themselves.
The Picturesque tamal de Puerco ($7.75) are filled with slow-roasted pork and purple pickled onions. The pork is mildly sweet and tender, while the pickled onions are hard to detect. I'd say the meat is a little dry, but the pork flavor does come through.
The Seasonal Tamal de Pato ($7.75) is a tamale stuffed with confit-style duck that is served with a chocolate-laden mole that also has whole dried cranberries in it. I was looking forward to this one, but honestly the duck doesn't really come through all that much. I simply couldn't tell that it was duck. The sauce, however, is straight-up delicious. It starts off a little like an American barbecue sauce, but then blooms into chocolate, chile, nuts, and oil, and the fruit makes the sauce sweet. The cranberries become plump in the sauce and make for a fun bite. I could swim in this stuff, though I don't think that's sanitary, so for your sake, I won't do it. Plus, I'm allergic to getting arrested.
The salsas and moles are all tailored to each tamale, and knowing how work-intensive crafting a good mole is, this is a pretty impressive feat. They're all markedly different from each other and help bring moisture and a ton of flavor. The masa dough in each tamale is soft, a little bit crumbly, but not too grainy like other tamales I've conquered.
The guacamole ($6.75) packs a pretty strong punch to your wallet; it's probably the most expensive side of guacamole I've seen in the Loop. It's got a neat little garnish of radish slices on top, which I'm going to steal in the future. Radishes add a bit of fresh peppery crunch to the rich avocado. What I like the best about this guacamole is that it's salted well, something I've noticed doesn't happen often. The portion size is fairly large, and if your coworkers are interested in going in on it with you, then I'd suggest it; otherwise, it's too expensive.