Kansas City's best tamales are at Tortilleria San Antonio

The quest for the best tamales in Kansas City.



Tamales are a warm blanket for your stomach.
  • Tamales are a warm blanket for your stomach.
Forget buffalo meat. The oldest dish in the Americas may be the tamale. The name comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli, and versions of the distinctive, corn-flour-derived sustenance date back to the Aztecs and Mayans. Traditionally steamed in a cornhusk or a banana leaf, the tamale is also the first fast food, a portable dish that's filling enough to eat for breakfast before going out and hunting all day.

There are plenty of opinions on who serves KC's best tamales. Former restaurateur and cookbook author Lou Jane Temple, who frequently travels to Mexico, insists that there are no better tamales in the metro than those served at KCK's Tortilleria San Antonio.

"They're not heavy or doughy," she says, "but made with a light hand. The texture and feel of the tamales are amazingly light and satisfying."

I can't disagree, but my own vote goes to the freshly made pork tamales at El Patrón Cocina & Bar on Southwest Boulevard. They're addictive, with or without the creamy queso that accompanies the fragrant, corn-wrapped comfort food. And maybe even better than the pork tamale is the meatless version - no lard ever used, promises manager Jim Nimmo - with a fluffy, masa-dough wrapper enfolding cheese and strips of spicy jalapeño peppers. On a bitter-cold afternoon, tamales turn out to be not just nourishing but also warm comfort.

2905 Southwest Boulevard
Hours: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Value: Tamales are $2 each.

Texture: The tamales at El Patrón are evenly balanced between the masa on the outside and the filling on the inside. They reheat very well without becoming soggy or chewy.

Eat in or carry out? When the tamales come out of co-owner Estela Cabral's El Patrón kitchen, they're freshly steamed and served with a bowl of silky queso sauce and, upon request, a ramekin of some kick-ass habanero salsa. It's a presentation worth sitting down for and enjoying on the spot.

Order like an insider: They aren't always available, but ask if the kitchen made any sweet dessert tamales.

Drink: The recently introduced cucumber-celery-and-avocado margarita. Very refreshing.

The blue steers will guide you in.
  • The blue steers will guide you in.
830 Kansas Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas
Hours: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. Monday - Saturday and 6 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday

Value: A sack of 12 fresh pork tamales sells for $12 at this combination butcher shop, café, tortilleria and supermarket.

Texture: Moist and fluffy. The masa dough absorbs the smoky flavor of the pork.

Eat in or carry out? Take the tamales home (they freeze well if you want to eat them later), but sit down for a chile relleno burrito or a basket of excellent barbacoa tacos with different house-made salsas. This place does a brisk breakfast business on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Order like a regular: Don't ask for cheese sauce or sour cream with these authentic tamales. The staff would be scandalized.

Drink: Jarritos grapefruit soda

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