For those who’ve ever been to an HoLa Hora Latina First Friday event downtown, you know our tamales are always quick to sell-out. It’s clear that our Knoxville neighbors have a big appetite for tamales, so we want to help you find the best ones around town. In preparation for National Tamale Day on March 23rd, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite spots to find delicious, hot tamales around Knoxville. But first, let’s start with the basics – what is a tamale and where does it come from?
Tamales have been a staple in Central and South American kitchens for hundreds of years and can vary greatly in dough, filling, and the type of leaf used to hold it all together. A single tamale typically consists of a meat filling enveloped in a doughy paste of corn masa (flour), butter or lard, and broth. The meat-filled dough is then wrapped in a soft, boiled corn husk and slowly steamed, allowing the dough to absorb all the juicy flavors of the filling. Tamales are the perfect grab-and-go option when craving a warm, portable, nutritious, single-portion snack. It’s always a good idea to order in bulk because they keep wonderfully in the freezer and reheat very quickly.
So where can these hot and delicious bundles of joy be around Knoxville?
1. Mexico Lindo: Located at Cedar Bluff, this spot is primarily known for its authentic beef, chicken, and pork tamales made fresh every day. They also offer a wide variety of classic Mexican dishes and a full bar. Besides regularly participating in HoLa Hora Latina’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the HoLa Festival, Mexico Lindo also provides us with dozens of chicken tamales every First Friday to sell to visitors at our art gallery, Casa HoLa, at the Arts Emporium on Gay Street. The restaurant regularly updates their Facebook page with daily specials and is currently offering both eat-in and carry-out options with delivery services also available. A dozen tamales will cost just $18. They receive lots of bulk orders for their tamales so be sure to call ahead to inquire about availability at (865) 692-9515.
2. Good Golly Tamale: Yes, Knoxville is home to a counter-service restaurant exclusively devoted to tamales. Located in the heart of the Old City downtown, Good Golly Tamale packs their 9 different tamales full of fresh ingredients taking an inventive twist on traditional flavors with options like “Curry Chicken, “Vegan Soul”, and “Egg and Cheese”. Additionally, they offer seasonal flavors that currently include options like “Butternut Squash”, “Thai Chicken” and “Purple Pig”. How could it get any better? They also serve vegetarian friendly sides including rice and beans, dessert, soda, and beer. At time of publication, no dine-in options are available, however, guests can order their meals and drinks for carry-out and order tamales in bulk 3 days in advance. Bulk orders are available by the half dozen ($25) and the dozen ($50). Visit their website to learn more and place your order online.
3. The Tamale Lady: A truly home-grown operation, the Tamale Lady, a.k.a. Sonya Curl, takes orders for tamales by the dozen on her Facebook page for customers to pick up at various meeting spots across Knoxville. The Tamale Lady asserts that Southern style tamales used to be very popular in East Tennessee and across the South but have become increasingly less common in younger generations. The Tamale Lady aims to bring Southern tamales back into style around Knoxville. The biggest difference between Southern and Latin style tamales is the use of cornmeal instead of corn flour/masa, in creating the tamale dough. This difference creates a grittier, sponge-like texture similar to cornbread. The Tamale Lady offers both spicy and mild ground beef and sausage tamales, a lighter turkey and lean sausage variety, a vegetarian option, and even a sweet cinnamon, apple and pecan flavor between June and September. An order of a dozen tamales can range between $18 and $25 with the option to add a quart of spicy or mild chili for an additional $10. Visit her Facebook page to view the current menu and place your order or call (865) 973-2907.
4. Mi Pueblo: This Mexican restaurant and market in West Knoxville sells homemade, frozen, and pre-packaged tamales for your convenience. Tamales aren’t always served at the restaurant but do make an appearance as a daily special every so often. Follow their Facebook page to be notified of tamale specials at the restaurant. You’re sure to find authentic Mexican treats and produce at the market to pair with your tamales, too. Mi Pueblo offers both chicken and pork tamales for $10.89 per half dozen. Guests may choose to dine-in or carry-out when eating at the restaurant. Stop by on your next visit to the Downtown West Shopping Center or call them at (865) 560-0411 to learn more.
5. La Lempira: Serving up traditional Mexican dishes and all your favorite Honduran and Caribbean specialties, La Lempira sells chicken tamales for $2.50 and elote (eh-low’-tay) tamales for $2. Elote is a mixture of grilled corn, mayonnaise, chili powder, lime, cilantro, and cheese and is a traditional Mexican dish often found at summertime barbecues. Try a “tamal de elote” to get a taste of Mexico in just one bite. La lempira is often praised for its authentic Central and Caribbean American cuisine and can be found in the Downtown West Plaza on Kingston Pike in West Knoxville. La Lempira currently offers both dine-in and carry-out options, with delivery available as well. Call ahead to inquire about bulk orders and prices at (865) 409-4771 or visit their Facebook page for more information.
6. El Burro Flojo: Located at the Olde Kingston Towne Shopping Center in West Knoxville, El Burro Flojo offers an extensive menu of Mexican staples, including pork tamales. While they only offer the pork variety, tamale plates are served with the sauce of your choosing and guests can enjoy their famously extravagant margaritas while they dine. Dine-in, carry-out, and delivery are all currently available. Single tamales go for $3.50 each and guests are encouraged to call ahead to order in bulk at (865) 247-0414.
7. Potrillo’s Taquería and Nevería: While Potrillo’s may be best known for their authentic tacos and ice cream, they also serve pork tamales topped with ground beef and sauce. This dish is served with rice and beans for $4.50 as a lunch special, so call ahead at (865) 671-4763 to inquire about dinner options and bulk orders. Don’t forget to try one of their many flavors of traditional Mexican ice cream featuring fresh fruit from across the Americas. You can find Potrillo’s in Farragut on Kingston Pike for dine-in, carry-out or delivery.