In a plain little shopping plaza hidden behind a McDonald’s near the Arrowood LYNX stop, Charlotte’s first tamaleria recently opened its doors.
What’s a tamaleria? It’s a restaurant specializing in tamales, signature food of Mexico and Central America. Laurita Tamaleria sells other things – tacos, torta sandwiches, a fine pozole soup (hominy, pork and veggies in a tomato broth). But don’t miss the tamales.
What are tamales? Corn dough, stuffed with meat or other goodies, then steamed in corn husks or banana leaves.
“Tamales” derives from the ancient Aztec word for “wrapped.” Laurita Tamaleria’s owner Laura Gonzalez Perez came to Charlotte from Chiapas, the southern-most state in Mexico, part of the Aztec empire 500 years ago. In Chiapas, families hang red lanterns out on Saturday nights when they have tamales for sale.
Perez arrives at 7 most mornings to hand-make six kinds of tamales. There’s chicken in mild red sauce, or pork in tangy green sauce, each wrapped in corn husks. There’s also a vegetarian option with just cheese and mild chiles, plus two sweet dessert tamales.
The standout is chicken mole (say MO-lay – no relation to the animal, by the way), a Chiapas favorite. Wrapped in a banana leaf, it uses three kinds of chile peppers — ancho, guajillo, and pasilla – plus chocolate, peanuts, garlic, onion, tomato, black pepper. Despite the chiles, it’s no spice bomb, but rather warm comfort food.
Perez aims to achieve the authentic flavors of “comida casera” (homecooking). “I have to make the tamales myself,” she says in Spanish, “No one else gets the seasoning just right.”
Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; 809 E. Arrowood Road, suite 2100, Charlotte. 704-595-7306
Eric Hoenes del Pinal helped write this story. He teaches anthropology and religious studies at UNC Charlotte.
Photos: Tom Hanchett