The sign of a good tamale
By by todd firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb. 8, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 7, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.
Sometimes the best sign is no sign at all.
It may sound like a very Zen thing to say, but I learned the above bit of restaurant wisdom in what might be the most anti-Zen municipality this side of Dubai: Beverly Hills, Calif. There, on Olympic Boulevard, is a restaurant that makes some of the finest old-school, "purist" style sushi that I have ever dropped on my tongue. All day, they churn out the thickest hunks of the freshest fish resting on chilled fluffs of white rice. So simple, so honest, the very act of its creation is an affront to the fakeness of the city in which it lives.
And yet, this high temple of fish has managed to achieve spectacular success without as much as a sign advertising its presence. There's no sign on the street. No sign above the front door. Not even a label on the menu. The place is so Los Angeles, minimalist-chic, it just can't be bothered to have a name. Worse, the restaurant exterior is indistinguishable from the private homes around it, making it almost impossible to find.
I once asked a waitress there how an invisible restaurant can be so popular. "Oh, because people just know," she said matter-of-factly. "If you really love sushi, eventually you will find us."
The Rosita Bakery, also signless and refreshingly stubborn in its refusal to advertise, offers a similar experience for Victorians who are serious about tamales. I've driven past the old house on Water Street several times, never seeing it, because Rosita's could easily pass for a private residence or even a small hardware store.
But every morning, a line forms at the counter, at times flowing out the front door. Hungry locals who crave tamales, tacos and baked treats have discovered Rosita's, despite it being nearly invisible. They found it because they just know.
Such is the power of word-of-mouth. Rosita's, as downtowners will tell you, not only serves terrific Mexican-style pastries, but top-notch tamales.
Their tamales are smaller and more slippery than the Americanized versions I'm used to. Unwrapping the husk reveals a narrow pocket of masa, generously stuffed with pork and coated in oil. In the mouth: sweetness and a meaty zing. The soft, almost creamy texture comes from being made of hog head, and not the the more common pork roast, according to its maker.
Proportion is also key to a winning tamale, and these have the least amount of hominy-dough needed to hold the most possible meat. Never mind the occasional bits of crushed bone. That's just the tamale's way of reminding you that it is real and not made of mystery meat.
And now for the poorly-guarded secret behind the restaurant with no sign. The tamales aren't made on premises, but delivered from David Garcia, who comes from a family of tamaleros who have been perfecting their craft since 1935. His tamales are also offered at TNT Restaurant, as well as direct from the source. Bean and chicken varieties are also available.
Sold by the dozen, the tamales age well (I'm eating three-day old pork tamales as I write). Reheated in a stove or microwave, they're nearly as good as fresh. Rosita's sells out quickly, so don't lounge in bed; after 9:30 a.m., your chances of nabbing a dozen tamales dwindles considerably.
So terrific tamales are found at a restaurant with no sign, which gets them from a cook who doesn't advertise. If that's not a good sign, I don't know what is.