Sometimes you wake up and your body craves something, and it needs that something to survive and nothing else will do. For me that craving is usually bourbon or Valpolicella, but Tuesday July 8, 2014 I woke up craving hot tamales. Not those cinnamon hot candy tamales, but real tamales, the way the ancient Aztecs made them. Cornmeal and meat with some spice added, and wrapped in a corn husk.
So we set out to get some. I went with my two friend Taylor and Joe. I don’t know if I have permission to put their last names in here, so you’ll have to do with what I give you. We decided that we would start on Jackson Avenue at the beginning and work our way to the square. We started about 2:00 PM at Papito’s and ended around 9:00 PM at Lamar Lounge. There were several tamales that stood out above the rest but there were several that were very subpar. My worst fear is that this writing will piss people off, so I will be as kind as possible.
Here are the nine tamales we had that day in Oxford, Mississippi, ranked from worst to first.
9) Lamar Lounge
One of the best presentation by far and the pickled vegetable medley was exceptional when added to the tamale! This is where it gets complicated, because we judged the tamales on their own accord. These just had no flavor. These were the blandest tamales by far. It tasted like they had been steamed in dish water. They were over priced at around $9 dollars for ½ dozen, and they were very disappointing especially when we found out that they were made in the Delta from a well-known tamale place.
These tamales were sub-par. They were overloaded with sauce and cheese and had more masa (cornmeal dough) than meat inside. I did drink a couple dos equis so that added to the experience. The masa was also kind of rubbery and they brought it to us too quickly. They came so quick that they couldn’t be fresh, and no one wants old-ass tamales from Mexican restaurant in a shopping mall. They tasted like they were probably under the heating lamp all afternoon. The flavor was pretty good though that is they at least had flavor and spice. This was the first spot we hit and ordered 3 when we should have probably only ordered 1. The option is nice you can spend 2 bucks for one or 3 for 5 dollars. Did I mention how good the dos Equis was?
7) Casa Mexicana
These tamales were very similar to Papito’s tamales except they seemed a bit fresher. The masa had a good consistency but there was just too much of it, relative to the amount of meat inside. The beer was fresh - Tamales and beer on an afternoon is always pleasurable. I like that you can buy a tamale here for around 2 dollars and it is large. You really feel like you get your money’s worth. To add to the ambiance there was a gaggle of Latinos at the bar watching the Brazil vs Germany Futbol game. They were all drinking pitchers of beer and shouting what I assume was derogatory Spanish... I absolutely loved that.
6) Sno Biz
If you want cold ass tamales to microwave later at your home, here is your spot. The girl gave me some tamales out of the freezer that were colder than penguin nuts. I loved the outdoor decorations though and the goofy signs and such. I even bought a lemonade snow cone, which was wonderful. They claim they get their tamales from the Delta and I believe them, partly because they were frozen and partly because they had a sign that said so. "They can’t put it on the ‘interweb’ if it isn’t true." If you flirt with the young girl working there, she will even heat these cold tamales up in the microwave. She will then place said tamales in a plastic Sunday ice cream boat! You may then eat these tamales under a very colorfully decorated umbrella and kiddy table as you sweat your ass off. Joe ordered an orange milkshake and, since I carry bourbon in my backseat center console, he decided he’d make a bourbon shake combo that was fucking delicious.
5) Rivals BBQ
These tamales were true Delta tamales. My only concern with them was they were a bit too salty and garlicky, and they didn’t have any heat. The presentation was pretty awful, but that doesn’t matter if they would have been delicious. They did, however, have a good meat to masa ratio and the consistency was excellent. I’d go back and get them again, well that is to say if they served beer. They don’t serve beer. Rivals is doing some great things with BBQ and their sausage/cheese plate is one of the best in Oxford. However, their tamales do need some work. Rivals has the potential to be at the top of the oxford underground tamale syndicate that I just invented, but for now they are just ok. Could have been better with a beer
4) Ajax’s Diner
This is not a traditional tamale, which is why it isn’t rating higher. I cannot leave it out though because it tastes so good and I think people need to try it. It is delicious, however, it’s kind of pricey if you just want a tamale. The entree is a good 13 bucks, but it’s served as a dinner with sides so it will fill you right the hell up. The green chilies are spread on top and are deliciously composed with fresh tomatoes. It is really fucking good. This tamale tastes very southern and traditional even though it’s considered a renegade of the tamale syndicate world. I would rate this tamale as being number one, but it is not a tamale. It is just corn/masa/meat/chili pie, but it is fantastic! [ED: We call it "tamale pie" in my neck of the woods.] I am writing this damn thing so I can say whatever I want and if you think it should be number one, remenberthat it is not a damn tamale, so be happy it even made the list.
3) El Milagro and Tienda el Carreton
Out of all the Mexican restaurants we went to, these were the best! We sat down, got the option of pork or chicken and we got one of each. Shredded pork and chopped up chicken made this tamale seem authentic. Add the green homeade sauce or valentino sauce to them and you’ve hit another level of love. It took them forever to bring them out so I can assume they were made to order. With sports in the background and another cold dos Equis this was an excellent tamale. (If you haven’t noticed, the major theme to this tamale ballad is drinking and eating.) Great masa/meat ratio - felt like I was in Mexico! Best tamale for the money by far. Around $1.50 per giant tamale. If all I wanted was a tamale and a beer I’d come here
2) Delta Steak Company
I've had these before and they were great. We even met the guy who makes them. They are made in house by a tamale making mad man. Did I mention you can get them fried - oh yeah, fried tamales. The regular Delta tamales are some of the best around, and although these were pretty flat I’ve had some there before that are absolutely perfect. The fried tamale was the best and one of the reasons Delta Steak Co comes in at number two. Ingenuity alone granted these guys a spot! I feel like if you stuffed the fried tamale with cheese, you’d get something so spectacular it would blow the minds of mortal men. It would be as if the ghost of John Vaught reincarnated Hugh Freeze at the Sugar Bowl and Treadwell catches a last second 75-yard touchdown pass to win the game, but all in your mouth. Great mixed drinks as well.
Yes the pizza joint
If I was judging the Tamale by itself and I am, I would put these at number 2 but this is my damn write up and I’m putting them at number one. Why number one? Well they have a great base tamale and a variety of shit you can douse it with. They have a really good chili with cheese combo. The chili is spicy, meaty, and oh so good. They also have a crawfish chowder sauce thing. Yes that’s correct, they have upped the ante, and shit on all other plain ass tamales in Oxford with this crawfish love sauce. Now I know what you’re thinking, "this is BS you can’t have crawfish sauce on a tamale." Well Soulshine and I are here with a rebuttal: "Yes the fuck you can." I should probably state that Soulshine has nothing to do with this and they probably don’t even know I’m writing this or that I even exist.
In all, I had a wonderful experience driving all over Oxford to different restaurants trying tamales. We have already planned two more adventures with deserts and fried chicken. We will wait for Gus to show us what he has before we judge that, though. To follow future adventures, hit up my twitter handle @wesley53taylor. I don’t always tweet about food but I tweet about booze and general philosophy.
I encourage all of you to go out and eat Oxford.