Head south, tamale lovers, to check out a newcomer on St. Louis’ Mexican restaurant scene that’s serving up fresh, hand-crafted tamales daily.
Tucked back about 30 feet on Bayless near Interstate 55, Mami’s Tamales is easy to miss, even when you’re looking. Once inside, you’ll find a variety of tamales handmade by Maria Emma Lopez, affectionately known as “Mami” [pronounced mommy] by the two owners – Carlos Lopez, her son, and Rick Hempe.
The two business partners became friends when their children, now teenagers, attended the same preschool.
Lopez knew his mother made a mean tamale, but Hempe wasn’t sure. “The only tamales I ate came in a can wrapped in paper and covered in red sauce,” Hempe says. “Carlos’ mom’s tamales, they were amazing.” The two friends wanted to try marketing them.
“When my dad was transferred from Mexico to Los Angeles with Boeing, my parents opened a small place where Mami made authentic foods,” Lopez says.
“When we moved to St. Louis, they were busy raising a family. So I asked my mom, she said ‘yes,’ and we started with the tamales.”
“Right now, we’re learning. The menu is limited. You could say we are a tamaleria, but we may become a cocina as we expand choices,” Lopez says.
Meals come with your choice of one ($6.75) or two ($8.50) tamales and rice and beans. Tamales come with a nice balance of masa spread on a corn husk, wrapped around hand-shredded seasoned pork (Emma) or beef (Papi’s) cooked in ancho chile sauce with onions, chunks of potato and green olives, raisins and a hint of jalapeno slices. The Veggie packs in black beans and colorful bell peppers instead of meat.
There’s also Pollo Verde, a simple and elegant combination of chicken, hand-shredded, with Mami’s green homemade tomatillo salsa.
Refried beans, Mexican rice, a sprightly pico de gallo, a thin and tangy tomato salsa and guacamole - all housemade - round out the sides. Sour cream and chips are available, too.
There are even dessert tamales, which come with pineapple, strawberry or brown sugar and raisins for the filling. Mexican beers, wines and tequilas are available, as well as soda, tea and coffee.
Eat in, carry out, or take home frozen tamales by the dozen. If you eat in, and "Mami" happens to be making tamales, you can watch her in the kitchen through a plexiglass window.