“About two weeks before Christmas, I stop taking orders,” laughs Jesse Moreno, owner of La Popular Tamale House.
“We keep making them as fast as we can all day, every day after that, but it’s first-come, first-serve.”
Serving tamales during the holidays, particularly on Christmas Eve, is one of several delicious Texas traditions with its roots in the Hispanic community. Tamale makers throughout the state have been gearing up for their most demanding season, and no tamale is fresher or finer than Moreno’s.
“We make healthy tamales – no lard,” Moreno says. “We use pork roast, boneless skinless chicken breasts, chuck beef – quality meats. Our corn husks are the best from Mexico. We grind and make our own maza.”
La Popular offers other options such as veggie, bean and jalapeno tamales, and an appetizing potato version. Moreno also creates specialty holiday tamales; he prepared turkey and sweet potato tamales for Thanksgiving and for New Year’s, he’ll conjure up a black-eyed pea tamale.
The tamale master is known to neighbors not only because he has lived here for 30 years, but because he feeds everybody – not just people coming through the door at La Popular. Moreno tamales are a familiar sight at Long and Woodrow school fund-raisers, and he doesn’t limit his community contributions to the culinary. Moreno recently has become involved in efforts to refurbish Woodrow’s home field for baseball and soccer with an eye to a future state-of-the-art facility.
He says: “Our kids deserve this. And something like this is good for the city, too.”
La Popular tamales are $6.50 a dozen and have a loyal following. Moreno, who says he used to stand on a chair as a small child because he wanted to cook, says his variety is more Mex-Mex than Tex-Mex, although he does offer a chili-cheese sauce in addition to the traditional toppings: salsa verde or roja and pico de gallo.
Sitting in his small storefront, Moreno says he has no plans to branch out or open more locations.
“We’re already rich,” he smiles. “We have our health; we have our neighborhood.”
LA POPULAR TAMALE HOUSE
4904 COLUMBIA AT FITZHUGH
Salsa Verde/Tomatillo Sauce
1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed
2 fresh jalapenos, cored and seeded
2 chopped bell peppers
½ cup choppped onion
¼ cup pickled jalapenos, minced
bundle of cilantro, chopped (around ½ cup)
4 T salt
2 T garlic
1 T comino
Boil the tomatillos, fresh jalapenos, bell pepper and onion until softened, then puree in a blender. Mix with the spices and the pickled jalapenos and fresh cilantro. Excellent with chips, enchiladas and, of course, tamales.