Usually I don’t write a review of a restaurant based on a single menu item. And yet, here we are.
The menu at Tamales El Patio is, to be kind, extremely limited.
They have, uh, tamales. And elotes. That’s about it.
There’s some other stuff, but it’s nothing you’d make a trip to eat. Frankly, the elotes aren’t something I’d drive for, either.
But those tamales. Sweet Baby Jesus Fighting Sweet Baby Satan, those tamales.
—And now, a brief detour—
You can read about my somewhat peculiar road to food appreciation elsewhere on the site, but here’s a recap: My parents — good people who tried their best with me, despite my obvious deficiencies — have fairly simple palates. Nothing wrong with it, just a fact. We ate a lot of microwaved chicken and creamy casseroles growing up.
One restaurant we visited somewhat regularly is the now-closed Pepe’s on Broadway in Edmond. And while my parents certainly enjoy Mexican food, the reason we ate there so often is because my brother and I are rage monsters who are fueled by hunger. They discovered early on that giving us chips and salsa before a meal kept us quiet and slightly less-terrible than normal.
As I aged, I was given a little more freedom to order for myself. (I still love chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce, because habits are hard to break.)
But one thing I wasn’t allowed to order were the tamales.
“You won’t like those,” my mom said.
They were bland and dry and only tasted like the chili con carne that was poured over the top, I was told. And when a tamale came as part of a combo meal, she was proven right.
Tamales, I decided, were not for me. And that decision stood for more than a decade.
It wasn’t until I was at work and someone brought a tray of tamales for a potluck. People went straight for them and nearly cleared out the stock immediately. My greed overcame my experience and I nabbed one before they were all gone.
The tamales at Pepe’s were much smaller than these and the corn husks had already been removed. These were soft, but solid. I took a bite.
“This is what tamales are supposed to be,” I said. “I need more of these.”
The tamales I had that day came from a coworker’s grandmother. My grandma wasn’t Mexican, nor was she interested in cooking for me. So I was on my own.
Thank goodness for my spiritual Mexican grandmother: Andrew Littleton.
Andrew was one of my fellow writers at EatAroundOKC who specialized in reviewing “Shady Restaurants.” He was the one who introduced me to Tamales El Patio.
If you’re going to get something that isn’t tamales, it’s elotes. This is a Mexican street food of corn mixed with mayo, parmesan cheese, chili powder and lime juice.
How best to describe elotes? It’s creamy-crunchy, almost like a spicy, savory peanut butter. The chili powder brings the bulk of the flavor, but the mayo and cheese add a nice tangy dimension. It’s not everybody’s cup of corn, er, tea, but it’s definitely something worth experiencing.
Now, the main event.
Tamales at Tamales El Patio are $15 for a dozen or $8 for a half dozen. Don’t wimp out and just get six. You’re better than that.
Tamales come in three varieties: red pork, chicken and jalapeno and cheese and jalapeno.
I recommend you get all of them. Not just every variety. I mean you should buy every tamale they have in the place and take them back to work or your house or just hand them to people on the street.
Do you want to be mayor of your town? Hand out these tamales.
Do you want to find love? Give that special someone a tamale.
Do you like steamed corn masa wrapped around tender meat or cheese? Save a few for yourself.
But take cash, because Tamales El Patio does not accept credit cards. My dream is to walk in with a briefcase full of money and leave with several briefcases full of tamales. Maybe someday.
My favorites are the red pork, which are easily distinguished from the others by the reddish juice that finds its way to the corn husk wrapper. Pork is the most flavorful of the fillings and it retains its juicy tenderness even after being reheated days later.
Careful unwrapping these, by the way. They are hot. You’ll think, “These can’t be that hot. I’ve had them for an hour.” Then you’ll try to open one and get steam burns on your hands and you’ll realize that witchcraft is at work here.
Also, be sure not to discard any of that delicious masa, which sometimes gets stuck to the corn husk. It’s mild and sweet with just a little seasoning and I absolutely love it.
The cheese and jalapeno tamales have the ideal balance of heat and creaminess. The cheese melts a bit, but stays pretty well put inside the tamale. The jalapeno has a nice kick of spice, but it won’t overwhelm you. It’s just a tingle to let you know you’re still alive.
The mildest in flavor of the three are the chicken and jalapeno. If I had to lose one of the three, I’d forgo these. But I don’t have to and I shan't!
The chicken is moist and meaty, covering up a bit of the jalapenos grassy flavor. These are best with a bit of hot sauce or salsa poured on top.
You can unwrap these and serve them on a plate, if you’re some kind of saint who has never known temptation or the touch of a lover.
The rest of us non-virgins will eat at least one in the car, with our steam-burned hands and a pile of napkins, because we understand what it means to feel.
If you’ve never loved a tamale before, this is your chance. Get thee to Tamales El Patio. Take cash. Fall head over stomach for these steamed corn masterpieces.