Friday, February 06, 2009
Tamales Rivals in Baytown? Not a Chance!!
I set out this week to find the best tamales in Baytown. It’s a daunting task to put it mildly and girded with the knowledge that food tastes are relative to each individual person, I forged on (anyway) with reckless abandon. It ain’t over until it’s over, so if you know of a tamale maker that needs investigating, I’m all ears, er, uh. I’ll investigate.
My intention is uncovering and exposing the best corn husk-covered and masa-filled tamale shop in Baytown, both to fulfill my craving and to enlighten my fellow citizens. If this sets off a tamale war in Baytown, where tamale makers compete for customers, then we Mexican food lovers will benefit in every way.
Besides, who says we have to drive to Matamoras, Houston or San Antonio to get quality tamales anyway? Hogwash! I contend the best tamales are made right here in our Baytown.
I, as in so many other areas of knowledge, am not an expert in Mexican cuisine, but in my defense, I have over fifty years of experience…eating - and in America, that means eating a wide variety of foods. So, equipped with this vast amount of culinary confidence in my ability to pick out what is simply really tasty, I left fear of failure behind.
Quite a few years ago, my beautiful bride - who was born and raised in the heart of Old Pelly, subtlety- but deliberately, set out to convert me to Mexican food. Given my druthers at the time, I always opted to enjoy Chinese cuisine. This was most likely due to my living two years in Central Thailand. While we were dating, she always hinted towards Mexican food and truth be told, I developed a rather strong hankering for it - to put it mildly.
Oh, for goodness sake, I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to Mexican food – okay? Thank God for my bride, Mexican food and thank God for tamales. Being a nomadic American for many of my formative years brought me into contact with a wide variety of local foods, but Mexican food pretty much tastes delicious regardless of how, where or what is served. Baytown’s rich Hispanic culture is replete with fantastic Mexican restaurant choices I’m told, but many Baytonians have no idea where to start. I’m hoping to change that.
And not to slight enchiladas or any of the other dishes most of us Texicans eat, I’m spotlighting the tamale as the pièce de résistance of my search. I hate to use the French phrase to describe Mexican food incidentally, but my study of Español is in its infancy.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed homemade tamales from Baytonian friends Rudy Aranda and Jose Padilla and whenever they have some to spare, I pick-up a couple dozen. Their homemade tamales are always delicious, but I want a steady supply, so hence, my search and being the geekish Internet dude that I am, I went online and typed into the Google slot the words “Baytown Tamales”.
What popped up on my computer screen was Los Toritos Tamales at 1906 N. Main, right here in beautiful Baytown! Fantastic! My daughter Melody is a fan of their brisket tamales and introduced my bride and me to their cheese and jalapeno tamales; so licking my lips and rubbing my amble belly, I drove down there to have a chat with the owner, Llyda Martinez.
Llyda makes about a hundred dozen tamales per day at this location and about three hundred dozen at her Pasadena shop and come to find out, this shop is Baytown’s only tamale only shop. Los Toritos is named after a nickname her Dad calls Llyda’s sons. It roughly translates as “Little bulls”. The tamale and sauce recipe come from her mother and is of course, a family secret.
I do know the Chili pepper used is called “Chile de Arbol” and the seasoning is just right. Llyda introduced me to a Mexican favorite – “Champurrado” or hot chocolate which is traditionally consumed while eating tamales and it was decidedly delicious also, a perfect combination.
Los Toritos has been open since August 2008 and let me say that this restaurant is destined to become very busy. Thanks to Los Toritos, I can say with certainty that my journey has successfully found its end.
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