Tamale House memories

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.05.14
With the passing of founder Robert Vasquez, Tamale House No. 3 on Airport Boulevard announced on Facebook Monday that it’s closing.
“It saddens me to announce that the Tamale House will be closing its doors after 36 wonderful years. The restaurant was my father's baby, and that's how I want to remember it... I would like to give out a HUGE loving thank you to all the women who worked in that hot kitchen 6 days a week so my father could put food on our table and money in our pockets...”
Regular customers will remember the way those women’s hands flew over the cash register, how the salsa bar was always a wreck, how hot it was in that last bastion of the un-air-conditioned. The family’s Tamale House East will stay open, but here’s a snapshot of the Airport shop from my 2011 exploration of every restaurant along that eclectic boulevard. Hard to imagine Airport without it.
There are signs at the Tamale House. Signs that say "no separate checks." Signs that tell you to check your order before you leave, because after that, tough luck. Signs that ask your wilting friend to stow her complaints about the lack of air conditioning, because sweat equity is subsidizing those cheap tacos.
And that's where the most important sign comes in, the one that says "Tacos 85 Cents." The choices for the two-ingredient foldovers multiply like combinations on a lock: eggs or chorizo or beans or potatoes or rice or cheese in any order, plus another 30 cents for more cheese or guacamole as fluid as avocado gazpacho. Chunks of bacon shower down in gluttonous handfuls.
The parking lot is a tiny Jenga-block puzzle grid, and you'll stand in an undisciplined rabble near the counter while fans swirl the hot baconated air around you and the cashier's fingers fly over the register keys in a supersonic blur. But I don't want to hear your complaints, Captain Fancy Pants. A "Regular Dinner" packs a pair of cheese enchiladas, rice, beans, a crispy beef taco, flour tortillas and a slathering of chunky, stomach-churning chili gravy into a groaning styrofoam clamshell for just $3.50.
In the morning, swim with your cheesy migas for $4.25 with beans and potatoes. Yes, it's a sloshy hot mess of eggs and tomato skins and tangled corn tortillas. But if we forgave Robert Downey Jr., we can forgive the Tamale House. But that Iron Man constitution? You're going to need that.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)