I would hardly consider myself a tamale expert, but every once in awhile a tamale comes along that's so terrific its deliciousness can hardly be disputed. (If you want to dispute me, I will gladly argue with you.) This is the story of that tamale.
Wandering down Roosevelt Avenue on a late night crawl led by Jeff Orlick, we stumbled upon a row of three tamale vendors directly beneath the 103d Street station. Though we were incredibly full by this point, we decided to try some tamales in the interest of science.
For a while I was content to ignorantly snack on the tamale I had purchased from the first vendor, a guy with a flashy sign and not much else. That was until I was fed a bite of Maria's tamale. I looked at my now disgusting tamale and couldn't throw it in the trash fast enough before pushing through the crowd now congregating around Maria. My fullness dissipated, I quickly ate two tamales.
Why were they so good? Well, the masa was laced with lard (and every once in awhile I got a bite of pure pork fat), while retaining a light, fluffy texture. No dryness here. The fillings were also solid: pork verde and queso brought the heat, adobo and rojo were also excellent.
Luckily we were joined by multiple Spanish speakers. We soon learned that Maria was actually Ecuadorian and had learned how to make tamales while working in a Mexican restaurant. Now she sells her own at the exceedingly convenient hours of midnight to 8AM.
Since that first encounter I've been back twice, each time leaving with a heavy sack of tamales that hardly last more than a day or two. For a dollar each, these may be some of the best cheap eats in town.
Roosevelt Avenue at 103d St.
Maria is the vendor on the north side of the street furthest east from the stop.