I was driving through the small town of Punta Banda, on my way back to Ensenada, and it was time for lunch. Being the adventurous sort of person that I am, I wanted to sample some of the local cuisine. When I way local, I mean really local in that I wanted to stop at a roadside vendor stand. After negotiating a particularly mean speed bump, my nose picked up the smell of wood smoke. I looked to my right and noticed a small, roadside stand with several pots cooking over a wood fire. How could I resist stopping by such an amazingly rustic roadside restaurant?
As with all restaurant reviews I publish, I have no affiliation with the restaurant reviewed, and there is no monetary gain on my part, as I am simply a person who likes to eat, and I love to write-up, and publish my dining experiences.
Photo: Tamales de Margarita is very unpretentious restaurant, open to the street and very informal. Owner Margarita, along with friendly hostess are chatting in the dining room/preparation room, which the open "kitchen," also know as a firepit, is outside. Pots of tamales and salsa are cooking over an open fire, using locally grown messquite wood for heat.
It's Saturady afternoon, April 15, 2006, and I've stopped by Tamales de Margarita to enjoy some amazing tamales, and to check out this interesting roadside operation.
Photo: Elena lifts the lid from one of the pots to show me a chicken-filled tamale. This charming lady, who loves north of the border in Los Angeles, was visiting her friend, Margarita, who is the owner of the restaurant. Between making tamales, keeping the restauant working, and helping customers, this lady provided lots of frindly conversation,
Margarita operates a small, roadside stand in the town of Punta Banda, about halfway between Ensenada and the world-famous blowhole, "La Bufadora." She sells several varieties of homemade tamales that she makes at the stand, and steams in large pots, heated over a wood fire, in front of her stand. She also sells jars of pickled vegetables, delicious homemade salsa, black and green olives. She has been in the same location for 16 years, and she makes a decent living by selling the food that the makes at the roadside stand.
Photo: Margarita opens the large pot to show me the tamales cooking over the open fire. The fuel for the fire was mostly mesquite wood, which grows all over Baja California, but she also used some charcoal.
Photo: Margarita puts a fresh bunch of tamales into another pot to begin the cooking process. Although tamales are being cooked over a mesquite fire, the wood is simply used for a heat source, and doesn't implant a smoky taste into the tamales.
I parked my car, got out and walked to her stand. It's one of those semi-enclosed stands where the side that faces the road is completely open. I introduced myself to Margarita, the owner, and her friend Elena, who was visiting from the Los Angeles area. I asked what kind of tacos Margarita sold, as she doesn't have a sign that advertises her wares. She told me that she only sold tamales; that was ok with me! So, I purchased a pork tamale and a chicken tamale.
These aren't the sort of tamales that you see in "gringo" Mexican-style restaurants. Margarita's tamales are huge and biting into them is like opening up heaven's gate. Margarita obtains all of her ingredients from local farmers in the area, so you know everything is as fresh as it gets. She has a table inside her stand, where she cuts the meat, vegetables and stuffs and ties the tamales into corn husks. She grinds the corn kernels up using a mortar, and makes all of her masa dough for the tamales on the spot. She does everything herself by hand, the old fashioned way. You can't help but to admire a lady this creative!
Photo: Elena and Margarita relax, and chat, as I wander around the restaurant taking photos. Besides tamales, Margarita sells home-bottled salsa, olives, chili peppers, onion, and bottles that feature a combination of ingredients. Note the commercial hot sauce on the table, just in case you care to spice up your tamales, as you dine.
Photo: Tamales are cooking over a wood fire, as Margarita and Elena relax in the background. The restaurant is under the roof, along with the "kitchen," but the firepit is outside, and made of cinder blocks.
Photo: Another view of the "stove" with pots of tamales cooking over a wood fire.
I think the part of her operation that intrigued me the most is her method of steaming the tamales: Over a wood fire. In front of her stand, she has a fireplace, built out of cinderblocks, with several large pots full of tamales cooking. She was pleased to show me the contents of each pot, more tamales.
In addition to tamales, Margarita sells homemade bottles salsa, pickled vegetables, black and green olives. Of course everything is made from fresh ingredients obtained locally. She does all of her canning using heat from the wood fire. If you've ever done any canning, you know how important it is to sterilize everything and how tricky it can be. It's hard enough using a gas range, but this lady does it outdoors over a wood fire.
Photo: If you love bottled olives and peppers, you've come to the right place, as Tamales de Margarita sells home-canned olives and chili peppers by the gallon!
Photo: Margarita tends a pot of chicken tamales that are waiting for the next tour bus to arrive. Tamales de Margarita gets a lot of business from tour bus passangers, as the restaurant is located on State Highway 23, on the way to the world-famous "La Bufadora" ocean blowhole.
Photo: Elena is busy helping Margarita make salsa. She gave me a taste of their produce, and, of course I purchased a bottle of Margarita's salsa. I can verify that the in-house made salsa is amazing!
Photo: Inside the "kitchen," we see the preparation table. Notice the hand-cranked meat grinder, along with he large stack of green onions. Tamales de Margarita is "old school" in every way, and everything is done by hand.
When I asked her more about her operation, she told me that she does a big business, as many tour buses like to stop on their way to and from the famous nearby marine geyser, "La Bufadora." I sampled some of her pickled vegetables, olives and salsa, and couldn't resist purchasing some to take home with me. I asked Margarita what her secret is in making such delicious products and she answered in one word, "vinegre," or vinegar in English.
Photo: Margarita sells large jars of just about everything pickled that you can imagine. The northern area of the Baja California penninsula is rich in agriculture, so all ingredients are locally sourced.
Photo: Colorful bottles of homemade salsa, along with pickled vegetables, olives, peppers and more line the shelves, for sale. Margarita makes everything from scratch, and by hand. Thanks to her friend Elena, I was able to sample her salsa, chili peppers and olives, and her wares are delicious! I brought home several bottles for my dining pleasure.
Both Margarita and Elena are outgoing, friendly ladies who will treat you like family. I hung around and chatted with them for the better part of an hour before I said farewell.
Photo: Margarita's pickled olives, veggies and salsa on display, outside the restaurant. Margarita has quite an inventory of pickled product for sale!
Photo: Margarita is inside the kitchen, at the preperation table where she prepares all of her fine food. Notice her hand-cranked meat grinder. She does everything by hand, and is very "old school." When I told her that I was planning publishing an article about her restaurant on this web site, I had to tell her about the Internet, as she wasn't familiar with it. Such is life in rural Mexico...
Photo: The kitchen, with pots of tamales and vegetables cooking, along with a rack of bottled salsa, pickled vegetables, olives and chili peppers.
Photo: Margarita waits on customers as Elena relaxes. I spent near an hour chatting with these friendly ladies, but when a tour bus parked in front of the restaurant, I decided it was time to leave.
Oh yes, the tamales you ask? D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. Huge. Fresh. Moist. Her tamales feature a nice, thick masa dough, very moist and tender. Oh the tamale filling is sooooo good! Both were delicious, but if I had to pick a favorite, I'd vote for the chicken, as simply put, I love chicken tamales. The price, you ask, for 2 tamales, a bottle of salsa and a bottle of pickled vegetables, plus samples of her olives? $40.00, which is just a little over three U.S. dollars.
Photo: The chicken tamale that I enjoyed at Tamales de Margarita. If you're in the mood for a delicious, "old school" tamale, made by hand and cooked over a wood fire, Margarita's is your restaurant.
Next time you're driving through Punta Banda, on your way to or from La Bufadora, stop by Tamales de Margarita, say "hola" to friendly Margarita, and enjoy a delicious tamale or two, and bring home a jar of olives or salsa.
Tamales de Margarita
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