Eats Beat

It’s a ‘Tamale Throwdown’: The search for the best tamales leads to Tarrant County

A tray of tamales is set for judging at the WFAA/Channel 8 “Tamale Throwdown” at Lee Harvey’s in Dallas.
A tray of tamales is set for judging at the WFAA/Channel 8 “Tamale Throwdown” at Lee Harvey’s in Dallas.

The search for the best tamales is taking WFAA/Channel 8 to Tarrant County.

For the first “Tamale Throwdown,” WFAA polled viewers and four of the seven contestants were from west of the county line.

Cardona Foods Cafe, Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen, Rodriguez Foods and Tommy Tamale Market & Cafe of Grapevine rolled out their best tamales for a segment.

They were up against Dallas favorites Dallas Tamale Cafe, the timeless Luna’s and Taqueria Laredo.

The winner: Tommy Tamale Market & Cafe, a Grapevine cafe and specialty shop open daily and specializing in tamales, quesadillas, nachos, burritos and burrito bowls. Mariposa’s was the other finalist.

(Marquez Bakery & Tortilla Factory, popular in both Dallas and Arlington, was supposed to be on the list. La Popular and others declined..)

The winner was a secret until Friday night. Tarrant County was well represented, with Mariposa’s as the other finalist.

All the tamaleros made pork tamales to detailed specifications — 75 percent pork, 25 percent masa — for the contest at the Lee Harvey’s bar near downtown Dallas.

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Chef Chad M. Burnett, left, and WFAA/Channel 8 reporter David Schechter hosted the Tamale Throwdown at Lee Harvey’s in Dallas. Chance Horner

The entrants ranged from Rodriguez, one of the state’s largest tamale makers (buyers line up for tamales by the case) to Mariposa’s, a boutique shop selling tamales, enchiladas and more by order only.

A panel of 15 judges tasted and scored all seven tamales on an intricate scoring system. Then, the two top-scoring tamales faced off again in a second round.

If you’d like to run your own test, here’s where to find the entrants:

Cardona Foods Cafe, a tortilla factory that converted front offices to a busy Tex-Mex lunch restaurant, will open until 2 p.m. this weekend and 2:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. Cardona sells pork tamales and also factory-fresh red or green tortilla chips; 850 Meacham Blvd. at Farm Road 156, 817-625-6477,

Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen is taking special orders only until its new Willow Park restaurant opens next year. Check to see whether any extra tamales are available in 15 flavors, including gluten-free flavors and four vegan flavors; 5724 Locke Ave. (opening next year at 120 Crown Pointe Road), 817-570-9555,

Rodriguez Foods, the best bargain in tamales, is a wholesale factory but sells cases of 10 dozen to the public in December for $30 (pork), or $35 (beef). If you’re just looking for a dozen, get Rodriguez tamales at Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy Stores or Allsup’s Convenience Stores. Rodriguez is just north of the Stockyards at 2901 Decatur Ave., 817-626-3961.


“Tamale nachos” at Tommy Tamale feature — well, tamale bites on chips with cheese and salsa Bud Kennedy

Tommy Tamale Market & Cafe serves a full menu available weekdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. It’s too late for phone or online orders, but go by 1689 W. Northwest Highway, 817-360-6385 (there’s also a Coppell location , 680 N. Denton Tap Rd.),

Eats Beat Ep. 147

DFW Restaurant Week

Other good tamale sources, among many markets and panaderias: Esperanza’s Cafe & Bakery in north or south Fort Worth; El Rancho Grande restaurant in north Fort Worth; the Hot Damn, Tamales! specialty shop in south Fort Worth; Ibarra’s Tortilleria in north Fort Worth; Marquez Bakery in Arlington; area Pulido’s restaurants; or the Fiesta or Supermercado El Rancho supermarkets.

(Old standby Tio Carlos’ Tamale King on East Belknap Street is closed and demolished. Beloved local tamale-makers Santos Aguilera of Aguilera’s Cafe and Virgie Martinez of Mi Cocinita have retired.)

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 15 Texas Legislature sessions. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,000 “Eats Beat” columns about Texas dining, restaurants and food.