Friday, July 23, 2010


Every town has that cluster of restaurants. You know, the one where you basically run into the rest of your town while you're eating. Food at these places really becomes secondary to the fact that everyone gets to walk around and pretend they're interested in your life's recent developments. I'm not saying that the food is bad, it's just not as important as hearing about so and so graduating or getting married or making varsity color guard. I'd like to believe though that these places have to have pretty decent food because something has to attract people besides the social scene. For those of you in Buffalo Grove, there's the whole City Park area with Champps, Wildfire, Big Bowl, and Maggie Moos. There's just no way to get in and out of any of those places without some conversation that you've only had 5,000 times. You always have the option of a polite smile and wave, but that seems a little douchey and you usually get roped into the stop and chat.

Anyways, the other night I was out in the downtown Highland Park area at what I now consider to be the epitome of social gathering restaurants, Tamales (there seems to be some debate about the name, but from what I can gather it is under a name change from Hot Tamales to just Tamales). It has a nice outdoor seating area which melds perfectly into the outdoor seating at Sushi Kushi Too making for the ultimate seen for any local yenta. Luckily for me, this wasn't my home town, and I wasn't held up in any awkward conversations (not necessarily the case for my present company). Interestingly enough there was a guy there who recognized me from this softball league I'm in, but him and a certain teammate of mine (we just call him "Groupon") had some heated words earlier this season so we didn't necessarily talk much.

When we got to Tamales it was pretty crowded. Just for perspective, it was about 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night. I think you can make a reservation, but even with the crowd we didn't need one and got seated right away. The one thing was that it was a beautiful night out, so all of the outdoor seating was taken, and we had to sit inside or face a 40 minute wait. We took the inside table.

There was basically one waiter for the inside, but he did a good job of taking care of us. We got a little low on water a few times which was a bit of a problem with some of the spicier dishes, but nothing that wasn't quickly remedied. Our food came out pretty quickly too. Also, the waiter picked up that we were having some good conversation and let us continue without rushing us out or handing us the check too early.

The cost was very reasonable as well. A single tamale cost $4.95, and you could get 2 tamales with rice and beans for $11. Tamales can range quite a bit in size, but these were large and filling, making it well worth the cost.

The Food
Tamales has a complete menu that you might expect at a Mexican restaurant. It's more than that though because they've got a special twist to most items. That special twist usually comes in the form of a special sauce, but we'll get to that in a second. So we started with an essential piece of any Mexican meal, the chips and salsa. The chips were pretty good with a nice thickness and not too much salt. I really liked the Pico de Gallo that came with the chips. There was lots of cilantro, and it tasted really fresh.

 The Chips and Salsa

Although I was amazed by the sizzling dishes that kept coming out of the kitchen, I wasn't too hungry and decided to just order what they're most known for, the Tamales. I ordered the Pumpkin Tamale (the most popular dish) and the Mushroom Tamale. One half of the Pumpkin Tamale had a medium green chile sauce while the other had a spicy red chile sauce. The spiciness mixed really well with the sweetness of the pumpkin filling to make for a fantastic dish. The masa (corn dough) came out really light and fluffy providing a nice exterior texture to the dish. The Mushroom Tamale was pretty good, but nothing like the pumpkin. It had a very rich Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. The filling was thinly sliced mushrooms, and the masa wasn't as nice. Maybe it was the effect of a different filling, but this masa had a tougher feel to it and was slightly drier.

 The Tamale Platter

The Pumpkin Tamale

The Mushroom Tamale

Whether or not you get stuck in an unwanted conversation or two, you still get to eventually sit down and eat. When you do get that chance, the food at Tamales is pretty good. They're most well known for the Pumpkin Tamale, but the Salmon Burrito and Duck Taco are also supposed to be excellent. I'd quickly come back to try those. Plus, if you get lucky you can sit outside in what really is a nice seating area. Most of the time I've had tamales, they've come out of the back of a van or a rolling cart, but the sauces really made these ones stand out. I'm giving Tamales 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Hot Tamales on Urbanspoon


  1. I've passed this place in HP a bunch of times, I'll make sure to stop by next time I'm up there!