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Tamale Trail: El Naranjo and Gaeta's

Melanie Wong | Dec 25, 200407:40 PM

Thursday I had ambitions of following Alan's lead to Tropicana for Christmas tamales -

But, by midafternoon, the taqueria in Tropicana market was already sold out. I did love walking around that place though, especially the produce department, and checking it out for future reference. At the end of several grocery aisles, crates were overflowing with masa preparada for making tamales yourself. Just no more ready-to-eat.

However, all was not lost. At the entrance to the shopping center, a sandwich sign in front of El Naranjo, a small restaurant, promised a dozen tamales to go for $10. These are sold outside the restaurant from a cart identifed as "Paula Luna". No more pork, only chicken or jalapeño and cheese left. I sampled one chicken tamale on the spot - small size appropriate for eating out of hand standing on the sidewalk, smooth lardy masa texture with compactness to hold together, green chili-spiked shreds of succulent chicken. Very good, so I bought a mixed dozen of the two varieties. A half cup of the green tomatillo salsa was another $1.50. Tax was included in the pricing.

We had them for Christmas Eve dinner along with crab louie. My brother had scored the last five pork tamales from Gaeta in Gilroy ($15/dozen), which included a trip to the salsa bar for some really zingy red and green sauces plus salsa fresca. The masa for Gaeta's product is a little lighter and fluffier, hitting a nice balance with the unctuous larded texture. The seasoning for the pork ones is still quite spicy and I continue to like them a lot. The chili and cheese tamale from El Naranjo was really good too, albeit made with Monterey jack cheese, and four halves of hot jalapeño per.


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