Food & Drink

Bar Exam

Bandits Bar's Tamales Are Perfect Drunk Food

The perfect drunk food is not a hot dog. As those who've received a visitation from the Tamale Lady know, the perfect drunk food is a tamale. The Tamale Lady tours the bars of San Francisco's Mission, dispensing her homemade tamales from a camping cooler on wheels. She's revered for miraculously appearing at exactly the right moment; the truth is that at her appearance, any moment becomes exactly right. One of her tamales, served with a paper napkin, a plastic fork, hot sauce, and a hug if required, can change the course of your night, if not your life.

Seattle doubtless has a law against this kind of dispensation of happiness—we wouldn't want anyone to suddenly have access to the perfect snack just when they need it most, not when we can get all paternalistic and regulatory. (In many years of operation, the Tamale Lady's never been the source of an outbreak of food-borne illness, only of joy.) Late at night here, it's pretty much find a hot-dog stand or nothing; and again, while the hot dog is fine drunk food, it's no tamale. The tamale's masa, savory dough made from cornmeal, is substantial and absorbent and delicious, as a hot-dog bun can never be; the filling, be it cheese, pork, chicken, vegetable, is a reward in the middle, the promise of the perfectly balanced bite rather than a domineering meat-stick. Originally a portable ration for ancient war, the tamale is an ally in the fight against hangovers. Cornmeal is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and, depending on the kind, a good source of folic acid and B vitamins, which alcohol depletes; cornmeal's plentiful carbohydrates help steady the blood sugar of the inebriated, as well as counterbalance stomach acids. It's high in sodium, but so's a hot dog, and there's a reason for salt cravings: Drinking depletes it, too.

A tamale's not going to come to you at a bar in Seattle, but now at least you can go to it. The brand-new Bandits Bar, near the foot of Denny, has tamales that—Lady, forgive me—mightily kick the ass of every other tamale I've ever had. The owner of Bandits is from Dallas; his recipe for "De La Cruz Kick Ass Tamales" (along with a secret ingredient, he says) is imported from Texas. The masa, firm but creamy, salty-good, encases melted Manchego and queso Chihuahua (mild, white, Monterey jack–like) with stewed home-style chicken (identifiable white and dark meat!) and chunks of actually spicy green chili. Or pork: intensely flavored, even better. Or superlative sautéed vegetables: also spicy-hot, and, impossibly, the best of all. And the tomatillo sauce: damn fine.

Bandits, a fake Old West saloon in a ground-floor condo retail space, feels highly arbitrary. The tamales, on the contrary, are meaningful; they are right. They're $3 at happy hour, $5 otherwise—and extremely worth it either way.

bethany@thestranger.com

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