Hermosa/Manhattan Beach bachelorette update(s) will arrive soon.
"The tamales in the Mission are better," my Mom said last night over dinner. She had a point. When I visit my family in Benicia, I usually try to bring food offerings. Tamales from La Loma Produce in the Mission are one favorite. Because no tamale should ever be served naked, I also pick up lime, avocado, jalapeno, sour cream, radishes and/or cabbage, and salsa ingredients.
Even the best of plans can sometimes be foiled.
Shit Life happens. Yesterday, the clock got the best of me. I decided to scratch my usual La Loma Mission stop and instead find a good tamale source in Concord or Pleasant Hill later in the afternoon. Leaving La Loma behind meant I would be on time for fiery Attitude Rolls and other sushi at Jo's Sushi with my brother, Josh, and his friend, Sean Finn.
After a relaxing and satisfying sushi lunch, Josh and I decided Willow Pass Road would net some good possibilities. We both used to eat at Las Montanas Restaurant, but it had been some time since either of us checked it out. Although I used to cruise and party in East Bay towns in my teen and young-ish adult years, food or social visits (anytime of the day) aren't as frequent these days.
We finally found the front door of a huge and pleasant surprise: Las Montanas Market. It's bigger than any Latino market I've been to in the City. I was excited to have more space to walk and shop. Josh and I were easily the tallest and whitest folks in the Market, and received some curious but friendly and amused looks. Listening to the chatter around us, I correctly guessed the market would be a great place to practice and improve my Peggy Hill style Spanish.
There's a food service counter in the Market, but I was looking for a steam table with tamales. (In the Mission, the tamales are usually behind a counter or near the cash register). Success! It was a self serve steam table with 2 compartments and lids. There was a sign that said chicken, pork or sweet corn tamales were available. At $1.50 a pop, they cost the same as most Mission spots.
"No tongs here," Josh said, as I lifted the left side lid. There were stacks of Mexican tamales, and the tamale steam facial smelled great, even if it made me feel hotter in the 90 plus degree heat. There was a pair of tongs in the right side compartment. Figuring out which tamale was which was a bit puzzling, because the three kinds seemed to be mixed together. I wanted 5 pork, 5 chicken, and 2 sweet corn. The way to tell if you are picking a pork tamale is it is usually (not always) darker than chicken, and has orange hues.
Once I had my stash, I decided to look for sour cream (I already had picked up avocados that morning). Although Las Montanas is large and seemed to have many fresh items, I wasn't able to find sour cream. I didn't ask for help or look too hard, because I was pretty tired and hot. As we walked, Josh would look at and pick up items like tamarind, hibiscus flowers, dried corn, and more. I could tell the stuff was interesting and different to him. I offered some explanations on the ingredients, but we were somewhat in a hurry because of the heat and wanting to hopefully "beat the crowds" (the 'rents use this term a lot) of traffic on the Benicia Bridge. We didn't spend much time looking and shopping, which I usually like to do.
The reason my Mom felt the tamales in the Mission are better? The ones from Las Montanas were tasty but a bit dry. A little mental review helped me figure out why. Most Mission area tamales are individually wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in a steam table, where they stay warm and moist. The plastic wrap traps the moisture. Las Montanas' tamales were not plastic wrapped, and the air dried them out. I would still gladly use Las Montanas as a "home away from home" ingredient and meat resource. But, I have to check if the no-plastic wrap is always the tamale procedure there. Maybe yesterday was some sort of fluke.
Las Montanas Market
1725 Willow Pass Road
Concord, CA 94520