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Informed Edibles: Delia’s Tamales

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Do you like tamales?  This is a simple question, and one I was asked on a recent work trip to the Rio Grande Valley.  Do I like tamales?  Sure.  I’ve had tamales.  They were pretty good.  I generally enjoy all Mexican food; it is one of my favorite cuisines.

Except I’d never actually had tamales.  What I had was some sort of bastardized version; a version that people who live in the northeast accept as tamale-ness.  But they don’t know.  They’ve never had a real tamale.

To me, a tamale is something that I order on a sampler plate at my local sub-par Mexican restaurant.  It looks just like an enchilada, and is covered in some kind of sauce and further buried in melted cheese (everything looks like an enchilada when smothered in sauce and cheese).  As such, it is bloated and mealy; the term ‘mealy’ refers directly to the unfortunate thing that happens to corn meal when, say, it is covered in enchilada sauce.

A real tamale is something else entirely.  It is a puffy, savory, corn pillow surrounding spicy, tender meat–or, better, melty cheese and silky beans.  It is not covered in sauce–though you can add salsa or peppers and onions to it if you wish.  And it spent zero time under a broiler, covered in waxy, yellow cheddar.  And if you’re really lucky, your real tamale comes from Delia’s Tamales, a small chain the Rio Grande Valley (which, by the way, is not really a valley.  It’s super flat with one tiny river running through it.)

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Impetus & Method:

In a traditional Suitcase Scholar Informed Edibles post, impetus (why I visited a dining establishment) and method (how I found said dining establishment) are two different headings.  As in ‘I ate here because I was driving through South Dakota’ and ‘I found it in a roadside rest stop coupon book’.  But in this case, the reason I visited Delia’s and how I found Delia’s are one in the same…

When you are working in a new town, and you are training a group of people, and it is a Saturday, and that group of people lingers after you’ve concluded the training simply to hand-write directions to a place where you should have lunch–yeah, you should have lunch there.  And so I did.  Two Saturdays in a row.

Justification:

You can read all of the categories below.  Or you can just go to Delia’s and be all like ‘holy crap, this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten’.  I’ll leave it up to you.  But know that in the time it takes you to read my justification, other people are eating tamales.  And you’re not.  Just saying.

-Value: 10 The smallest order of tamales you can order is a half dozen.  All half dozen orders are under five dollars.  I don’t know anyone who can eat more than six tamales–though you may be tempted to try because really, they are that good.

-Convenience: 10 This is a fast food joint in no ways but one–the food is delivered to you immediately.  It is not a fast food chain in that the ingredients are quality, and the food is made with obvious love and skill.  But if you want, you can be in and out in less than five minutes.  Even when there’s a long line.  And there’s always a long line.

-Uniqueness: 2-10  Whether this is unique or not depends upon where you live.  If you live in the northeast, as I do, it is a 10.  If you live anywhere in south Texas–or Southern California or, I imagine, anywhere along the US/Mexico border–or in Mexico–tamales are rather ho-hum.  But to me, they are ho-yum.  (What?  Forced pun?  I’m not sorry.)

-Healthfulness: 5?  I have no idea if tamales are healthy.  I imagine they are not.  And I don’t care one little bit.

How much did I love Delia’s?  I returned there the following Saturday for lunch.  And  I’ll be back in town again this Saturday.  Guess where I’m having lunch?  Yeah.  Delia’s.

It takes a lot to get me to revisit a dining establishment in my own town.  When this is published, I’ll have visited Delia’s–located in a little border town 1,921 miles from my home–three times.  And I’ll have spent a total of $20.  Which is including that horchata I couldn’t drink, and the Fanta Orange with which I replaced it.  That, dear readers, is saying something.

Delia’s is a small chain of fast-food tamale shops in the Rio Grande Valley.  There are several locations which can be found at THIS LINK.  In researching Delia’s online–for this post, after having been directed there by the wonderful people of Edinburg, Texas–I discovered that you can actually have tamales shipped to anywhere in the US.  But I’m pretty confident they wouldn’t be the same.  You can ship Philly cheesesteaks, too–but I super don’t recommend it.

Disclosure statement: no one told me to write this.  But the world needs to know.  Delia’s Tamales.  Go there.

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