What I had for lunch yesterday

January 5, 2020 • 12:45 pm

One of the local free newspapers recently had an article on “Chicago’s Best Tamales.” (If you don’t know what tamales are, read here.) In fact, I was reading it in my office yesterday morning at about 11:30 a.m., and realized that I hadn’t had a tamale in a very long time. Without further thought, I got up from my desk and went down to my car, which had been parked for several days outside my building. And I pointed my 20-year-old Honda north, towards Pilsen—one of the several Hispanic (mostly Mexican) areas of Chicago.

I was headed towards one of the recommended joints, the restaurant La Casa del Pueblo, for I knew exactly where it was. (It’s right next door to the best Mexican supermarket in Chicago that happens to have the same name.)

Like all the Mexican places I frequent—sadly, not that frequently—it’s homey and friendly. And cheap. The tamales are $1.25 apiece, and, though smaller than most, are quite tasty.

I had five: two chicken, a pork, a pork with jalapeño, and one with frijoles. Along with a complementary basket of chips with salsa and a big glass of horchata de arroz, my meal came to about nine bucks. I was full.

An opened tamale with pork and jalapeño:

After all that spice, I craved a nice cool dessert. And fortunately, right across the street is one of the best palaterias in Chicago, purveying a huge variety of ice cream, tropical-fruit milkshakes, and—my goal—paletas. These are Mexican popsicles, but infinitely better than American popsicles, for paletas are made with milk, sweet spices, and fresh fruit. (Some, like mango or pineapple with chile, are also made with hot spices.) They are delicious, filling, and not something you can get in non-Hispanic places.

Here’s the paleteria: La Michoacana Premium (paletas were invented in the state of Michoacán). This is a fancy paleta place.

Inside they must have had about fifty varieties of paletas. This is only about a third of the selection. And because they’re filling, it’s frustrating to choose just one. I actually bought two ($2 each). The strawberry ones to the left, for instance, have big slices of strawberry in the cream. What a conundrum!

I had two that I hadn’t tried before: prune (with a big fat prune at the bottom)

This one got a bit beat up as I wrestled it out of its cellophane wrapper.

And rice pudding, with cinnamon and cardamom. Both were superb.

After that I was really full, and went home to take a nap.

Here’s a video of the restaurant:

18 thoughts on “What I had for lunch yesterday

  1. In the UK we’ve managed to appropriate many other culinary cultures, but so far I’ve never come across anywhere that sells paletas. They look very tasty, and there could well be a niche in the market for some foodie entrepreneur.

    Knowing my compatriots, however, we’d probably end up with Raspberry Ripple, Neapolitan and Cornish Cream Vanilla.

  2. I keep telling myself I’m going to make tamales some day, and then I don’t and grab a can of Hormel tamales.

  3. A mighty fine lunch and dessert. Around here, tamales are always smothered in salsa rojo of some sort. The tamales you had look moist and have more filling than what I’m used to. I eat more Mexican cuisine than any other. I love spicy food, why I also eat a lot of Thai and Indian. Making Vietnamese fresh rolls tonight for the playoffs.

  4. Wherever we have lived (at least inside the US), my wife has made sure that she cultivated a relationship with a “tamale lady”. We always have fresh tamales, always pork, usually carnitas, in the fridge. Steam them for 10 minutes, add some cheese and salsa, and there you go.
    It helps that my wife speaks good Spanish, and knows the right questions to ask to find the very best.
    Neither of us have ever tried to make our own tamales. Some things are better left to experts.

      1. I think I was a bit ambiguous. A “Tamale Lady” is usually a Mexican woman of middle age or older, who makes fabulous tamales at home, then brings them to you fresh every week or so at your office or home.
        If you live in the US, there is probably such a person near you, providing very high quality products at a very low price.

        I sort of assumed that people would know this, but as we know, ambiguity is the devil’s volleyball.

  5. To be a stickler, the singular of “tamales” is “tamal,” although “tamale” seems to be accepted in English.

    Never been a fan, myself. Now tacos al pastor, on the other hand…la comida de los dioses.

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