In the dough
The term “hole-in-the-wall” is defined as a small or obscure place, often referring to a restaurant. It’s particularly apropos in the case of The Lady Tamales, located at the edge of Carson City and tucked in the back of a small building also home to a convenience store, laundry, and party supply shop. There’s barely room to seat 12 people. The menu consists of fewer than 10 items, and the service is quick. I waited perhaps 20 minutes for a fairly large take-out order of made-to-order food.
Everything shy of soups and a couple of specialty plates is made with a choice of beef, chicken or pork. We ordered nine tacos at a dollar a piece—three of each meat—and a dozen beef tamales ($10). Not stopping there, we added a combo plate of rice and beans, with two chicken enchiladas ($6.50), another combo with steak ranchero ($6.50), and a pair of burritos; one pork and one beef ($6.50). Everything was served with plenty of medium-hot, housemade salsa.
The pair of white corn tortillas for each taco were grilled to add a spot of char and flavor, topped with piles of minced cabbage, shredded meat, chopped white onion and cilantro, with lime wedges on the side—nothing fancy, just solidly yummy street tacos. All three meats were well-seasoned and tasty in their own right, though I think I enjoyed pork the best. The tortillas were stout enough that carb-conscious consumers could slim it down to just one without fear of the whole thing falling apart their hands.
There wasn’t a lot of sauce on—or stuffing inside of—the enchiladas, but what was there was pretty good. The carne asada’s ranchera marinade was fantastic, with savory and spicy elements balanced against a strong note of lime and plenty of cilantro. The grilled meat was perfectly tender. Ample servings of cotija-sprinkled refried beans and Spanish rice rounded out the plates, with a nice amount of whole beans in the mix and fluffy rice that wasn’t dry. I’ve been served so many marginal samplings of these classic side dishes, I’m pleasantly surprised when they’re actually worth eating.
Full disclosure—tamales usually aren’t my thing. Most of the time there’s just way too much masa and not enough meat, and the flavors tend to be pretty bland. Every now and then I’ll try one hoping for better, without much luck—until now, that is. The lady of the house definitely knows her way around a corn husk, and each tamal in the bag was as good as the last—with lots of meat, great seasoning and masa that was actually tasty on its own. The only other tamales I’ve tasted that were this good are those made by my son’s mother-in-law, and that’s not a fair comparison. Let’s call it a draw.
The pork burrito was a decent combination of rice, beans, onion, cilantro, cheese and meat, but I couldn’t really taste the pork against the other flavors, which was surprising seeing as it was so good on the tacos. I’m pretty sure the meat in the beef burrito was chopped steak, so they basically took everything from the combo plate, stuffed it into a giant flour tortilla, added plenty of melted cheese—and thus made life worth living. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a burrito that much, and it was so big I had to save half of it for the next day’s lunch. Not a bad problem to have.