The Tamale Lady in front of the Mexican Embassy

No offense to the sombrero cart on 50th St. btw. 6+7th, but for the most part the Mexican Food in Midtown sucks.  For the best Mexican food in the U.S., the closer you get to the source, like L.A. or Texas, the better the food is going to be.  So it should be no surprise that the best Mexican food in Midtown can be found right in front of the Mexican Embassy, on 39th St. btw. Park + Madison.

 Just like the ballfields in Red Hook, supply follows demand.  Want to serve pupusas from El Salvador?  Go to where the Salvadoreans play futbol on the weekends.  Homemade tamales?  Head to the Mexican Embassy, where a lady sits out front all day long selling tamales and hot drinks (cold in the summertime) to those waiting outside.

A big bag o tamales, and a +/- after the jump…

I speak a little bit of Spanish, so it wasn’t too hard to communicate my order- but luckily the menu is not that extensive.  Tamale.  Drink.  Easy enough.  With my rudimentary Spanish, I determined that there were three tamale choices (Pork, chicken or cheese), and each was $1.25.  With those ridiculously cheap prices, I ordered one of each.

I took my bag of tamales to the curb and dug in.  The pork one was pretty easy identify:

But the other two were a little tougher.  I thought one was just cheese, but both seemed to have chicken, and one of them had cheese and a green pepper that I’m guessing was a poblano chili (but I’m not sure.)  Maybe I’m not so good at speaking Spanish after all.  Of course, I’ll eat anything so I didn’t really care.  All three were delicious, and mildly spicy (for people who like spicy.  For people who don’t, they could be considered “very spicy”)

She also had two drinks for sale.  A hot chocolate, and an “arroz con leche”, a sweet and hot milk drink with rice in it.  Both were $2.50, and perfect for the winter weather. (In the warmer months, she has cold drinks.)

Cheap, authentic Mexican food made for Mexican people.  What more could you want?  And at $1.25 a piece, how can there be any complaints about the tamales- but I’ve still go to do the +/-

The + (What somebody who loves this place would say)

  • I love tamales!
  • Super cheap
  • Authentic Mexican food, made for Mexican people (i.e. not typical Midtown Mexican)
  • I eat everything, so not knowing what’s in each tamale isn’t that big a deal

The – (What somebody who wouldn’t like this place would say)

  • I don’t speak Spanish, so I didn’t know what I was ordering
  • I’m a vegetarian, and am afraid of getting meat in my Tamale
  • I don’t eat pork, and don’t speak Spanish, so how do I know there’s no pork in my tamale?
  • I don’t like spicy food
  • I like Chipotle.

The Tamale Lady outside the Mexican Embassy, 27 E. 39th St. (btw. Mad+Park)

45 Comments

  • I went today, and there was nobody there. And then I realized, it’s Good Friday. That probably had something to do with my tamal-deficient afternoon.

  • Does anyone know if they’re open on weekends? (I wish I still worked in Midtown.)

  • i went yesterday around 12:30 and there was no one there… does anybody know if she stopped coming ?

  • Just came back from the Tamale lady – she’s still on 39th between Park & Madison, on the north side of the street. Went around 12:15, and she was already out of arroz con leche. I went with a Spanish-speaking friend and confirmed that there is NO meat in the cheese tamale. GREAT STUFF. Still an amazing $1.25 each.

  • yum! these tamales are indeed delicious! i highly recommend them. currently chowing down on a pork and cheese one as i write this.

  • me and three other coworkers walked over to the tamale lady to try her tamales out. 3 out of 4 of us were short asian women. we got some stares from folks hanging around the embassy, but luckily the 4th with us speaks fluent spanish, so it kinda balanced us out. no cheese today, but she did have “sweet.” i had the pork (spicy! delicious!) and the “sweet.” the corn was bright pink, and it had raisins. definitely sweet, not sure if I could eat two of them like I could the pork. but very tasty, and well worth trying.

  • (before grammar police come, I’d like to retract my first sentence, and revise with, “three other coworkers and i walked over…”

  • up to $1.50/tamale. still very much worth it.

  • I make tamales and maybe I am overly pickey. This was a cool find. Loved the location. Nice people but I found the tamales very average.. but good, cheap and basic. Would recommend buying 4 just to make sure you get a full sampling and just incase one is a little missing something you still have more than enough to eat. I like the spicy ones (pork?) the best. The cheese was a strange texture but all edible. I bought along my own hot sauce.

  • working in midtown and being on very tight “budget” (ie broke) usually means i bring my lunch in. didnt have time this morning so i checked out the tamales cart for the first time… done and done, i have found my new go-to spot. 3 tamales for $4.50 and im def full. my chicken was spicier than the pork, but both were delicious (no cheese today). for those worried about speaking spanish her son (?) was there helping out and he speaks english (whether you want him to or not, i was looking forward to practicing. and sue me, but i kind of love places that allow you to pretend you are somewhere else, ie no english. its more fun, and one of the reasons why i love greenpoint.)

    thanks midtown lunch! you are the best!

  • Which one?

  • these tamales are delicious! the chicken and cheese were spicy and tasty – i’m originally from louisiana, so the spicier, the better. the pork was good, just not my favorite. and there was definitely no meat in my cheese tamale.

    thanks midtown lunch!

  • I passed by here this morning at about 7:45 and she was there dishing out the tamales (!). didn’t have time to stop though. went back a little after 10 AM and got one chicken and one pork tamale (no others were available). brought ‘em back to work with me, and … yum.
    (NOTE, I passed by yesterday at about 7:30 AM and she was not there. maybe too early? maybe she only does SOME mornings?)

  • I went there this morning ~10:30 and she was already out of chicken! :( so I went with the 6 for $9 “special”, as it offered by the young guy who helps out the tamale lady.

    I just want to say that I believe this lady to be a Tamale Genius, her Masa (the corn flour part of the tamale) is brilliantly flavored, I mean, I have easily eaten my weight (which is not insignificant) in tamales and this lady’s Masa is fantastic.

    Her fillings are also excellent, and these guys (the tamales) are legitimately spicy, not the bland, almost waterlogged impostors that you will find some places. Again, sadly, didn’t get to try the chicken, but the pork is also excellently spiced and the cheese and chili is a little slice of heaven.

    In his review Zach seems to be concerned that there was chicken in the cheese tamale. I wanted to point out that this didn’t seem to be the case for me. The cheese that she uses when tightly compacted in the masa and steamed does though take on a similar appearance and almost similar texture to a long piece of “pulled” shredded chicken. Tastes like cheese to me though. I would actually like to know what cheese she uses though, as it does have an interesting texture; absolutely slamming with her generous use of chilies though.

    Seriously, I’m going to save two months salary, get a ring and go back down there! Te quiero Tamale Lady, te quiero!

  • LOVE That Tamale lady. Just wish she would have a continuous supply. When she runs out (often VERY early) the usual choice left is boiled egg tacos… Not my favorite, but people seem to love them. Once I took a friend who is a native Texan for Tamales, the usual lady was not there, no Tamales to be found. The lady who was there had neither Tamales nor did she offer egg tacos, but something I had never seen before, a kind of Chicharonne pizza (not sure about the spelling) a Giant square pork rind with dots of white cheese & assorted fresh veggies on top. Can anyone say the ultimate Atkins pizza? Well my Texan friend was grossed out by the idea so I never got to try it but it looked really interesting. Let me know what it was like if you have ever tried it!

  • Went to see the Tamale Lady 2 weeks ago… She wasn’t there!! WTF?? Has she finally gotten busted??? Anyoine who knows, please share the info!!!

  • i work right around the corner and after reading this, went to grab some tamales! i didnt attempt spanish (took a few years in HS, quite terrible) but basic english nabbed me 2 chicken tamales. at $1.50 each, they make a good snack but i think i’d need about 6 of them to fill me up.

  • its crazy how peole love tamales..im mexican and i myself go buy cause it takes really long to make them….its true the tamal lady by the embassy has one of the best tamales ive ever tried

  • Went there today and there was no line. Based on the picture above I was prepared to wait for a few minutes. I ordered 1 pork, 1 chicken and 1 cheese. Unfortunately there was no more pork so I got 2 chicken and 1 cheese. They were very tasty and definitely spicy, especially the cheese tamale. I will absolutely be back, possibly next week to get the pork tamale and try the arroz con leche.

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    Just went a few minutes ago, no line, but only cheese/jalapeno left. The young kid told me you have to get there before 10a for other flavors.

    Ate three, which I found pretty satisfying. And I do have a big appetite.

    Ole!

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