On a stretch of 5600 West in West Valley City filled with shiny new (mostly) franchise restaurants and shopping centers, there is a marvelous family owned Mexican eatery that has shot close to the top of my favorite Mexican restaurants list. It is called La Casa Del Tamal and this, my friends, is the real deal.
Not surprisingly, a specialty of La Casa Del Tamal is tamales; the term tamal being a derivation of the Nahuatl word, tamalli. And, there are excellent tamales here. But there is oh so much more to be enjoyed at this former sushi bar. You may have a short wait for a table, however; La Casa Del Tamal is justifiably popular and often packed. But the service and food is outstanding and well worth any wait.
At La Casa Del Tamal you’ll find menu items that are missing from even the most authentic of Mexican restaurants – dishes you may never even have heard of. For example: huaraches, gorditas, pambazo, sopes and such. They don’t serve burritos, but do offer tacos with fillings like barbecued lamb, birria de res, asada, pastor, pollo asado, chorizo, chicharron prensado, and others. The Tacos de Canasta (6/$10.95) are topped with grilled Mexican-style cebollitas (plump green onions) like the ones I remember from Oaxaca.
It was interesting to me that the entire staff of La Casa Del Tamal was wearing face coverings, although most of the patrons weren’t. That’s a comforting policy. Shortly after being seated by a friendly hostess, an equally friendly server brought us out a large, free bowl of homemade chips and salsa while we tried to wrap our heads around the menu, much of which was new to us.
Tamales at La Casa Del Tamal are made fresh, from scratch daily and occasionally not all of the flavors are available, since they sell out. There are individual tamales priced at $1.99 apiece or you can order a dozen (to be ordered in advance) for $23.95. The types of tamales offered are verdes de pollo, rojos de puerco, mole poblano, and rajas con queso. We hoped to try the mole poblano tamales, but they were out of them. So we opted for rajas con queso – cheese-filled tamale with jalapeño, and also for a rojos de puerco, which was shredded pork in a red chile sauce. Both tamales were terrific. In addition, two dessert tamales are available: dulce de piña (pineapple) and dulce de fresa (strawberry).
Following those delicious tamales, my wife and I shared a single gordita ($3.85 for one or 3 for $9.95). The gordita is a thick, handmade masa tortilla that is fried and stuffed with refried beans, queso fresco, sour cream, lettuce, cilantro, and choice of meat. We opted for the tender and juicy chicken tinga, which was killer.
One of the menu highlights is the molcajete ($32.95). It’s a mixed grill meant to feed 3 or 4 people with ranchera carne asada, chicken, shrimp, chorizo sausage, and nopales (cactus) served in a heated stone molcajete topped with queso fresco, grilled jalapeños and onion. Sadly, since there were just two of us, we had to pass on the massive molcajete. Next time we’ll bring hungry friends.
Other eye-catching menu items include caldos – soups and stews. There is classic menudo made with tripe ($10.95); birria de res ($10.95) – stewed beef in a chile pepper base; caldo de res ($10.95) which is a rich tasting beef soup with carrots, squash, corn and potatoes; and a mixed seafood soup called Caldo 7 Mares ($17.95). Another of the more significant finds on the menu is a Mexican specialty called pambazo ($10.95) that is often served as an antojito (snack). It’s made with bread that is dipped into guajillo chile pepper sauce and fried, filled with potatoes (papas) and chorizo and garnished with shredded lettuce and cotija cheese. I don’t recall seeing pambazo on another Mexican restaurant menu in Utah, although perhaps they exist. There are also torta sandwiches at La Casa Del Tamal, including a torta Cubana, plus sopes, gorditas and huaraches – oblong-shaped fried masa with refried beans, salsa verde, lettuce, queso fresco, sour cream, and a choice of fillings including tinga de pollo, flor de calabaza, huitlacoche, pastor, asada, and others.
Fresh seafood is highlighted in the Mariscos section of the menu, which includes shrimp cocktail ($12.95), aguachile ($15.95), octopus ceviche ($5.95), camaron a la Diabla ($14.95), and more. We were floored by the generous portion of the Tostada Ceviche Camaron for a mere $5.95. It was a large, crispy corn tortilla topped with chopped tender shrimp marinated in lime juice with red onion, cucumber, cilantro, and thick avocado slices.
In Spain, parrillada refers usually to a barbecue or to grilled meats. La Casa Del Tamal has parrillada dishes which are grilled items served on a hot cast iron skillet. I ordered the Cielo Mar y Tierra ($15.95), which translates more or less as “heaven of sea and land.” Again, the portion size was sort of stunning – enough food to easily split two ways. It was ultra-tender grilled boneless chicken, shrimp, and beef with melted cheese, a toasted jalapeño, and rice and refried beans on the side that were anything but an afterthought. Plus, a half dozen or so hot, fresh corn tortillas. I often evaluate Mexican restaurants based on staples such as rice, beans and tortillas, and all at La Casa Del Tamal are homemade and exceptional in flavor.
La Casa Del Tamal was very busy during our visit this week, but I got to speak briefly with Emily Guerrero, whose family owns the restaurant. “We will be back!” I told her. And we certainly will. Because La Casa Del Tamal is serving not just some of the most authentic Mexican cuisine I’ve found here, but it’s an appealing eatery on so many levels, from top-notch service and friendly employees, to its eat-off-the-floor cleanliness. We will indeed be back.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“Mexican food is so full of color, life and music. It’s like a pinata exploding in your mouth.” — Kate McLennan
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.