Charlotte residents looking for some delicious Mexican fare have a wealth of popular options, from Sabor to Comida, Three Amigos to Cantina 1511. But when it comes to finding some authentic tamales — ones that are a featured item rather than a menu afterthought — there are precious few places to turn.
So when a friend recommended Tamales la Pasadita in the Plaza-Shamrock neighborhood, I was shocked to learn it was just a few blocks from my house and yet I’d never stumbled upon it on my own.
To be fair, Tamales la Pasadita is easy enough to miss, sharing a nondescript building on The Plaza with a beauty parlor and a church. But once you’ve found it, there’s no mistaking the flavor.
The interior has a diner feel, with a long counter along one wall and a row of booths on the other.
Spanish-language soap operas are a fixture on the lone television, and their coolers are stocked with one-liter bottles of soda and tubs of ice cream.
The menu is varied — the standard fare of tacos and burritos, plus some intriguing options like mole de pollo — but the tamales are the stars.
If you’re new to tamales, your best bet is to simply let the staff decide for you.
Their English is better than my Spanish, but safe to say neither is particularly good. But it really doesn’t matter. Everything on the menu is fresh, authentic and bursting with flavor. I’ve been three times now, switched up my order each time, and I’ve yet to find something I didn’t enjoy.
(Of note, the one downside to the language barrier is my complete confusion about the “cash only” sign that hangs above a mailbox, which is affixed with a sticker offering various non-cash options for payment. I’m going to have to turn to Google Translate so I can get some clarification on this mystery.)
The key to any tamal is the masa — the starchy wrap usually made from corn and wrapped in a banana leaf. (Note to newcomers: Don’t eat the banana leaf.) Here, the masa is thick and flavorful, flaky on the outside but soft on the inside, soaking in the flavors of the beef or chicken filling.
The special — three tamales, rice and beans for $8 — is the most popular option.
The beans are terrific, a creamy affair that has a flavor closer to what you’d get in a Cuban dish, but perfectly complementing the tamales.
The other key to the meal is the salsas — red, green and white. The salsa verde comes with a serious kick, for those who like their tamales spicy. The rojo, however, is more flavor and is about as good a sauce as I’ve ever had at a Mexican restaurant.
The challenge at Tamales la Pasadita isn’t at all about finding something you’ll like. It’s more about finishing your order. No one leaves hungry, and with most tamales ranging between $2 and $3, you and your wallet will be fat when the meal is over.