It’s peak season for tamales, when the cornmeal dish figures into Hispanic holiday tradition.
“During Christmastime, we sell about 200 dozen every two weeks,” said Mike Garza, co-owner of Ninfa’s Tortillas & Taqueria in Kansas City, Kan.
We sampled tamales at three area locations, each with its own spin on the snack.
“A lot of people think Mexican food is the same wherever you go,” said John Greer, general manager of Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen.
Bottom line? It’s not.
Ninfa’s Tortillas & Taqueria
In a word: Decadent.
Leave your diet at the door of this mom-and-pop lunch spot, where warm, handmade tortillas and squeezable butter are brought to your table in place of chips and salsa.
As for the tamale? Tender hunks of pork and chilies come encased in masa, a cornmeal dough, and smothered in melted cheese and red sauce.
Co-owner Ninfa Garza rolls and steams them herself. During the holidays, the restaurant also sells tamales in cheese-jalapeño and cinnamon-raisin flavors upon request.
$14 per dozen, 964 Kansas Ave., Kansas City, Kan., 913.621.1743
Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen & Bar
In a word: Big-ass.
A from-scratch tamale at this Tex-Mex eatery looks like a Hot Pocket.
Its cakey casing puffs up when steamed, Greer said.
Sure enough, when we speared the cheddar-topped bundle with a fork, a rush of hot air whooshed out, uncovering the tamale’s savory guts of stringed pork and chilies.
“It takes a lot of little techniques to do it right,” Greer said. “It’s hard to beat fresh masa.”
$3.50, 2856 Southwest Blvd., 816.753.0775, ponaksmexicankitchen.com
In a word: Unadulterated.
Inside this roadside-diner-style spot in downtown Merriam, you’ll find high turquoise booths, white wooden walls and a purist’s tamale.
Served naked in a banana leaf is a narrow bar of fluffy masa and spicy chunks of pork. No cheese or sauce here.
Order the tamale meal, and you’ll get homemade refried beans and rice with a trio of tamales.
$6, 5816 Merriam Drive, Merriam, 913.403.8830
More tamale hot spots
Habanero’s, 1008 S.E. Blue Parkway in Lee’s Summit, 816.554.1008, habanerosrestaurantonline.com
Paleteria Tropicana, paleteriastropicana.com ?830 Southwest Blvd., 816.221.0192. 19321 E. U.S. 40 Suite C-1 in Independence, 816.795.0099. 10928 W. 74th St. in Shawnee, 913.631.4900. 151 S. 18th St. Suite N in Kansas City, Kan., 913.621.1777.
Tarahumara Mexican Food, 10001 W. 87th St. in Overland Park, 913.403.9211 and 10201A W. 47th St. in Merriam, 913.766.0400, tarahumaramexicanfood.com