I was in the MT 60 Plaza in Chino on Tuesday, picking up a comic book at Comic Madness on my way back from lunch at Flo’s Airport Cafe, when I was startled to see a giant banner above the Tamale King sign saying the space is “Ideal for Restaurant.”
Uh-oh. A closer look shows the storefront is cleared out. A clerk at the comic shop said Tamale King left earlier this month.
There’s no farewell sign or message to customers, but the extensive legend painted on the window says the business was founded in 1969 — 40 years ago — and asserts: “We are the original and only Tamale King in the Chino Valley. Come in and taste the history of our family.”
A December 2008 feature on the restaurant can be read if you click below.
Is the “original and only” Tamale King really gone, and why?
Tamales a part of Christmas tradition
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) – Thursday, December 4, 2008
Author: Mark Petix, Staff Writer
During the rest of the year, a tamale is part of a meal.
But during the Christmas holidays, the tamale is a delicious present from the past, a taste of family and a rich Latino heritage unwrapped with special joy.
Every bite is a memory, of Grandma, Mom, your favorite tia, of long and happy hours in the kitchen mixing the masa and creating perfect packets of chile and shredded pork or beef or chicken that are wrapped lovingly in corn husks.
“It’s a family thing,” said Betty Duran.
Very much a family thing.
Duran says for her family, tamales have been both tradition and survival.
It’s been that way since 1962, when her mother, Adela Gil, started selling hot tamales from a yellow truck parked on a dirt lot along Euclid Avenue in Ontario.
In one faded photo from those early days, you can see a little girl among the many lined up for tamales .
That’s Gil’s granddaughter, Lisa Lizarraga.
They were humble beginnings.
“And I mean humble beginnings,” she said. “But we had lines of people all day long.”
In 1969, the family traded its truck for a storefront and Tamale King was born. Today, the family sells tamales by the dozen in a small Chino strip mall.
In front is a tamale cart to remind customers of their roots. In the back, they mix the masa and mold the tamales using Grandma’s recipe.
“We make it the traditional Mexican way,” Lizarraga said. “It’s all by hand.”
The spicy pork tamale is the original, but they also sell beef tamales and, just before Christmas, chicken tamales .
This is the busy time of the year, when families place their orders for the tamales that have become part of their holiday tradition.
It’s all part of a celebration that stretches from one end of the Inland Empire to the other, from Buenos Dias Tamales & Tortillas in Colton to the Tamale Factory in Riverside, to Indio, where some 160,000 people will gather Saturday and Sunday to revel in all things tamale .
The Indio International Tamale Festival is the place to taste the traditions and innovations of the tamale as it is made in many parts of Latin America, from sweet corn, strawberry and chocolate tamales to the savory pork tamales visitors take home by the bagful.
Named by Food Network Television as one of the Top 10 All-American Food Festivals, it is also home to the famous tamale tasting contest, where last year’s overall winner was a cactus and Monterey jack cheese tamale .
For many, the Christmas season remains a call to family, a time to gather faithfully in the kitchen to keep their tamale traditions alive.
They will laugh and maybe argue over who gets to do what this year. And as the hours pass, they will create many dozens of tamales that they believe have just the right mix of masa and pork and chile.
Everyone thinks his tamale is the best, and Duran says that pride is understandable. The recipes may have been passed down for generations, and there is love in each bite.
Tamale King is a business, but at Christmas, when her other children take time from their professions to join her and Lizarraga in the kitchen, there is something more at work.
“When we make tamales , it’s for the family,” she said. “I keep this going for my mother.”
The Indio International Tamale Festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6p.m. It is between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard. For more information, contact www.tamalefestival.net.
Tamale King is at 12345 Mountain Ave., Suite D, in Chino. For hours and information, call (909) 628-7233.