I came across the Dia de los Tamales booth at the Milwaukee Arts Fest recently, and was excited to find not only comfort food but a chef-driven menu that embraced the whole farm to fork concept. Unfortunately I had a huge breakfast before attending, so the only room I had was for delicious aromas.
A friend suggested we go to Pilsen to try it last weekend, and I was all in.
We were there a few minutes before they opened at 11a.m., and the rice wasn’t ready. So we chose to load up on sides instead. The chick peas were laced with chunks of braised pork and the black beans with green olives — however, both were strangely bland. I would’ve expected more salt or a deeper flavor, but it was lacking.
The tamales were far more enjoyable. I tried the vegetarian roasted red pepper and goat cheese tamale that held the promise of more flavor that it delivered, but was still a good complement to the tender masa. The spicy black bean and corn tamale had far more kick and intense flavors, and was well worth the bite.
My friend doubled up on the red pepper tamale, but snagged a coconut curry chicken tamale, too. The mild curry with the peanut sauce was interesting, and overall a good vehicle for tender shredded chicken.
We both agreed the apple cobbler tamale was a winner. The buttercrust masa was laced with enough apples to give it flavor but not fall apart. A rich, salted caramel sauce was laddled on top, with real dollops of whipped cream. Really excellent.
The service here was fast, friendly and cheerful. It’s a cute spot, lined with ethnic artwork for sale. There’s no room to sit indoors, so plan to eat on the outdoor cafe seating or take it with you. Parking in the area is plentiful.
All the tamales are $3.00. The lunch combo with two tamales, sides and a fountain drink is $10.
Dia de los Tamales
939 W 18th Street
Chicago, IL 60608