I discovered Tucson Tamale Company when I was a student at the University of Arizona. Their original location at Broadway and Tucson Boulevard is a quick bike ride away from campus, and once I tasted their Colette salsa, a medium-heat tomatillo salsa with just the right amount of salt, heat, and tang, I was hooked.
Luckily, by the time I graduated and moved across town, Tucson Tamale Company’s eastside location had opened, complete with a window into the kitchen to see the tamale-making magic at work. While their tamales are always tastiest served at the source, fans can also purchase frozen tamales to prepare at home from the nearest Tucson Tamale Company location or from freezer cases at more than 500 grocery stores and co-ops nationwide. Frozen tamales can also be shipped anywhere in the country through Tucson Tamale Company’s website.
Looking for a quick and casual lunch fix, we headed to the eastside location, placed our orders at the counter, and settled onto the front patio. Tucson Tamale Company doesn’t mess around when it comes to the size of their tamales. Co-owner Todd Martin says they aim to serve a “meal-sized tamale,” and I usually find myself unable to eat more than two in one sitting. And they offer more than tamales: the menu includes a range of burritos, quesadillas, empanadas, and salads, plus a variety of side options, from the classics like Spanish rice and frijoles to a citrusy Mexican Slaw. Items can be ordered a la carte, or as part of a plate or platter special.
While there are currently more than 20 varieties of tamales crafted and sold at Tucson Tamale Company, the choices served hot in-house are limited to an only slightly less impressive list of 17 tamale varieties. Martin says Tucson Tamale Company started out with six tamale recipes, drawn from a combination of traditional family recipes as well as a few of his own. New tamale recipes have been inspired by both customer feedback and employee suggestions. “One of our most popular tamales right now is the Chile Relleno tamale, which came to us […] during a ‘create-your-own-tamale’ contest,” he says.
We managed to pare down our options, settling on two 2-Tamale Plates ($7.69 each) and one Red Chile Beef Burrito plate ($6.99). We chose the Chipotle Beef and Cheese Tamale, the Vegetable Curry Tamale, the Blue Corn, Veggie & Cheese Tamale, and the Red Chile Beef Tamale. Each tamale has its appeal: the jalepeño masa used in the Chipotle Beef and Cheese Tamale makes for a lingering burn for those craving some extra spice, while the Vegetable Curry Tamale is the epitome of a fusion food, transplanting the flavors of Indian yellow curry into a warm, moist masa envelope. The Blue Corn, Veggie & Cheese tamale is my favorite on the menu, with its blue-purple masa and hearty calabacitas interior, though the Red Chile Beef tamale is a close second, thanks to a filling of tender shredded beef, slowly simmered with red chile powder from Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co. in Tumacacori. The Red Chile Burrito is filled with the same tender meat.
Both Tucson Tamale Company locations feature salsa bars with a variety of pickled and fresh toppings in addition to the three house-made salsas on their menu: The Sherry (a mild red), the Colette (a medium green), and the Todd (a spicy red), all named after family members. My favorite, the Colette, is named after the owners’ daughter. Martin says, “It’s kind of a Goldilocks-thing; if Sherry’s is too mild, and Todd’s is too hot, Collette’s is just right.”
While Baja Arizonans have no shortage of quality tamale options to choose from, for me, Tucson Tamale Company offers a consistent product with a convenience factor that makes them a must-stop and a must-stock.
Tucson Tamale Company
7159 E Tanque Verde Rd
Tucson, AZ 85715