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Best Bite - The Tamale Lady

Thanks for coming back to Best Bite! Our passion is GOOD FOOD, and we want to tell you about the absolute best bites we’ve tasted in the River Valley and beyond. This week we highlight a foodie staple in our community that most people don’t know about, and many more would never try. It’s sold out of a minivan in a grocery store parking lot in Yell County, and I would seriously eat there every day if possible.

We have so many amazing restaurants and food trucks in our city. Everyone knows about La Huerta. We’ve all been to Western Sizzlin’. It’s hard to miss a brick & mortar that’s placed on a well-beaten path. Lit up with neon, a large parking lot, a comfy booth, and a large sweet tea that never seems to empty itself. Those things are all really awesome, and definitely contribute to the reasons we go out to eat in the first place. But sometimes the “glitz and glamor” of throwing your peanuts on the floor at your favorite western restaurant just isn’t what I’m looking for. Sometimes I want to sit at my grandma’s tiny-ass kitchen table (the one from the 50’s) and let her feed me bites of whatever it is she’s been crafting all day while me and grandpa picked veggies in the garden. Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and so is grandma. So what do I do when I need a big bite of nostalgia?

I visit Maria.

Just over the bridge in Dardanelle lives a beautiful soul named Guadalupe Evertastico. Short, unassuming, and as kind as her namesake. She’ll let you call her Maria for short. I call her tia. But for the longest time, I simply called her “the tamale lady.”

I found Maria by sheer chance one day. I was driving to Hot Springs on Hwy. 7 and had to pull into the parking lot of Morelos (Best Bite blog post coming soon) to do some phone stuff. It was a beautiful day, I had my windows down, and after a few minutes of sitting there I hear a beautiful sound.


I looked to my right and found Maria standing next to a minivan with the back hatch open. She said again, “Tamales!” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a vehicle that fast. Luckily I had a $20 bill in my wallet and I was all too eager to hand it over. Maria doesn’t speak English fluently, and my Spanish is just good enough to find a bathroom, but somehow we communicated just fine and I was on my way with a bag full of what was about to change my life.

The bag contained six jalapeño chicken, three molé, and three stewed beef. I got in my car and headed south, one hand on the wheel and the other reaching into the plastic grocery bag to find a warm tamale. I was super pumped that the first one was a jalapeño chicken variety, and as soon as I opened the corn husk I knew I was in the presence of greatness. The steam arose, wafting the amazing smell into my nostrils. These tamales aren’t skimpy. Tia does a great job of keeping them stuffed properly, but not overstuffed so as to make the corn meal casing disintegrate. My first bite literally made me pull over to the side of the road. Picture me, on Highway 7 right before Centerville, tears rolling down my cheek while I’m chewing incessantly. And probably making weird noises. Ok, definitely making weird noises.

I have a “thing” called Synesthesia. In my particular case, I see and experience colors and shapes when I hear certain tones, smell certain smells, and taste certain tastes. I treat it as a mystical power of sorts. It allows me to experience the world in a multifaceted way. Where a normal brain may taste garlic, I also taste the cacophonous rainbow that comes along with it. And when flavors start to melt and gel together into something new? Remember in Disney’s Fantasia, when Mickey puts on the sorcerer’s hat and starts throwing stars and fireworks around? That’s a really loose way to explain what I experience. It’s like an aural fireworks show in my brain. And it happens every time I eat tia’s tamales.

I asked Maria, “would you like to say something to anyone who may read this blog?” She replied (translated), “I am so thankful for the support of this community. The people seem to love my food, and that makes me feel good inside.” I asked her why she thinks people enjoy it so much. Maria said, “I think people appreciate how each tamale is hand-made. It reminds them of their home, of their culture. And even if you’re not Hispanic, it still can remind you of home. That’s something special.”

“I want to show people my culture, my origins. I love to express myself with my food.” This is the point where the interviewer started to cry, and he gave Maria a big hug and a “GRACIAS TIA”. Her passion inspires me every time I see her.

Every tamale is slightly different. Each one has inconsistencies and imperfections. The truest testament to the hand-made nature of each one. I’ve always loved good food. Not “good” in the sense that it tastes good enough to eat, but I mean GOOD food. Food that’s prepared with care, time, attention, detail, and most of all, love. It really does come from my stellar experiences in the kitchen with grandma as a young kid, and the fact that my mom could cook literally anything at a pro level. I’m alive today because of the handiwork of amazing women who cared enough about me to prepare my meals by hand. If you’re familiar with cooking at all, you know that most meals have imperfections. Of course a dish can be perfectly prepared, but at home it’s sometimes about speed, frugality, or just having to answer homework questions while trying to chop veggies. Homemade food is an expression of the culmination of every experience within a family unit. It’s meant to be delicious, filling, and ultimately - imperfect.

When you find yourself to be hungry on a given Saturday, do yourself a favor. Hit the ATM and grab a $20 bill. Take a short drive across the bridge and pull into the Morelos parking lot in Dardanelle. If you see a lady with her van hatch door open, stop and talk to Maria. Give her your money, give her a big hug, and enjoy some of the best tamales you’ve ever eaten. Prepared by hand from one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever seen. And for what it’s worth, I think you should do it often. Maybe Maria can help remind us all that good food is worth the time and attention it takes to create. She’s been doing this every Saturday for the past 5 years. And I hope she does it as long as she’s happy. With a smile like that, I think we’re in good shape.

(I highly recommend taking the bag of tamales to the top of Mt. Nebo for a walkabout. There’s no better trail food in my opinion.)



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