Restaurant News & Reviews

Tamales? Triplettas? Try both at weekend fests

A chicken-stuffed Salvadoran tamal.
A chicken-stuffed Salvadoran tamal.

Love Mexican food but want to delve deeper into Latino cuisine? Two upcoming festivals offer opportunities to expand your horizons – and perhaps your belt.

Charlotte’s top tamal?

You probably have had tamales. They’re made of corn dough shaped around a filling (sometimes meat, sometimes not) then steamed in husks or leaves. But did you know that every Latin American culture from Mexico southward has its own special spin?

Lucila Ruvalcaba will gather tamales vendors for Charlotte’s Las Americas festival on Saturday. Tom Hanchett

Lucila Ruvalcaba, a Mexican cultural attaché who retired to Charlotte, is putting together a Tamal Alley as part of Las Americas: A Celebration of Indigenous Cultures. The festival takes place Saturday afternoon at Midwood International Center on Central Avenue, spotlighting the dances and foods of native peoples across our hemisphere.

Five different restaurants will sell tamales from Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Will you like the multiple meats and olives of the Venezuelan hallaca? Or the pork and pumpkin seeds in the Guatemalan chuchito?

Pity the poor judges (I’ll be one of them) who have to crown a “top tamal” for the festival.

What’s a tripletta?

Ask Yarelis Torres what she’s missed most since leaving the island of Puerto Rico for Charlotte last year. She’ll talk about hanging out at the piñones – tree-shaded ocean beaches – and munching on triplettas.

Never heard of a tripletta? Imagine a loaf of Cuban bread stuffed with three meats. Torres chops up chicken, steak and pastrami. She heats them quickly on a flat-top grill, then tumbles them into the bread along with potato sticks and a squirt of mayo/ketchup/honey sauce.

Torres & Ramirez
Yarelis Torres (left) and Karla Ramirez run the El Coqui food cart offering Puerto Rican food. Tom Hanchett

“It’s not diet food,” Torres says, laughing. She and partner Karla Ramirez pilot a big orange trailer to construction sites and roadside vending spots most Wednesdays through Sundays. Type “El Coqui Food Truck” into Facebook to track them down.

On Sunday they’ll be easy to find. El Coqui is part of Charlotte’s annual Puerto Rican Festival at Symphony Park next to SouthPark Mall.

Find community historian Tom Hanchett’s writings at Reach him at

If you go

Las Americas: A Celebration of Indigenous Cultures

When: 2-7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Midwood International & Cultural Center, 1817 Central Ave.

Admission: Free.

Sponsored by: Latin American Coalition.

Details: 704-458-8072.

Puerto Rican Festival 2017

When: Noon-8 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Symphony Park, 4400 Sharon Road.

Admission: $5.

Sponsored by: Puerto Rican Cultural Society.