Taco Traveler: The Tamale Place, Vicksburg, Mississippi

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The Tamale Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi serves up slightly spicy, saucy tamales. And that, is just about it. When you walk in, there is a window to order your food and that is all. No cute decor, no tables, no to-go menus. You can get tamales, boudin and burgers. Tamales are wrapped in parchment type paper and then newspaper to travel.

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The spiciness wasn’t overwhelming, it really was spicy more than hot. That was the main flavor I got from it though. Spicy, medium heat but I couldn’t really identify a particular flavor from the tamale. I had one. Mr. Taco Traveler had one. We took the rest back to our campsite where Mr. Taco Traveler had another one or two. The remainder went into the trash unfortunately. They just weren’t that impressive and there was nothing about the restaurant that was all that redeeming either. In fact, the person who took our order seemed pretty suspicious that we had been outside taking a picture of the sign. I will say though, if you are looking for a tamale with a little bit of heat that is still family friendly you will probably really like these.

We read several places that there were homemade pralines available here also, but we saw no sign of them. After our less than friendly greeting by the cashier, I didn’t take the time to ask about pralines.

The Tamale Place, 2190 S. Frontage Road, Vicksburg, Mississippi 39180 gets 2 tacos out of 5. I really wanted to like these more but I think my expectations were too high so I was bound to be disappointed. It was definitely worthwhile to have these to compare with those from Solly’s.

Taco Traveler: Fat Mama’s Tamales, Natchez, Mississippi

If you read that you are going to be driving in the general vicinity of a place called Fat Mama’s Tamales that is the home of the Knock-You-Naked margarita there isn’t a lot of debate about whether or not you will stop. You just do.

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When we arrived in Natchez, Mississippi at the end of our drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway we were looking forward to some lunch and a tour of some antebellum homes. It was scorching hot outside with the thermometer in the truck staying consistently over 100 degrees. This made lunch extra appealing, with cold beverages and air conditioning seeming like the best plan possible. We knew we had found the right place when we saw the bathtubs…

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Inside we found cheerful yellow walls, bright, fiesta-like decor and even whimsically painted toilets in the bathrooms. Fat Mama’s has no wait staff so you have to order at the counter, pay at the counter and then come and pick up your food when it’s ready. Not a big deal since the dining room is spacious, but not huge. We decided to try the tamales, of course, the Gringo Pie – listed as Fat Mama’s Favorite in the menu – and the knock-you-naked margaritas. We added on some chocolate chip pretzel cookies after we ate.

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The margaritas came out first. I was pleasantly surprised to find no overly strong tequila taste coming from my glass, just a nice tart margarita. I probably should’ve known better considering they are called knock-you-naked. I slurped through the second half pretty quickly and paid for it with a seriously upset stomach for about 30 minutes in the car. Too much tequila too fast is my guess. Fat Mama’s sells cute little bottles of the margarita mix that you can pick up for mixing at home. We saw them some other places around Natchez for about $1 more so make sure you go to the source if you want to save some money.If you don’t want a margarita but enjoy a good draft beer, try the Southern Pecan. It’s a very nice nut brown ale type beer, good flavor and only a touch of bitterness at the finish.

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The Gringo Pie came out first – three tamales topped with chili, cheese, onions and jalepenos. It was okay. I think, by visiting Solly’s Hot Tamales first we may have spoiled ourselves for any other tamales. It was certainly not bad by any means. Mr. Taco Traveler and I finished it off with no problem. It just wasn’t anything truly remarkable.

fat mama tamales

Tamales came out next. The first thing I thought when I took a bite was, “Oh, they obviously use masa flour.” There is a distinct flavor to masa flour and it completely permeates every bite of Fat Mama’s tamales. If you love that flavor you will really love these tamales. Unfortunately, it is not a flavor that I love so I was a little turned off. The texture was a little softer than other tamales we tried and they had a little less sauce clinging to them. Mr. Taco Traveler enjoyed them but we both agreed the tamales were disappointingly average.

The chocolate chip pretzel cookies at the end were good, though not “to-die for” as was suggested to us. Maybe we’re just food snobs?

With that said, I would still say it is worth a trip to Fat Mama’s if you are in the Natchez area because people will ask if you’ve been there if they know anything about Natchez. And you can get great knock-you-naked T-shirts and stickers that make for fun vacation souvenirs.

Fat Mama’s Tamales, 303 South Canal St. Natchez, Mississippi earns 3.5 tacos out of 5 – 1 taco for good atmosphere, 1 taco for the food and 1.5 tacos for the margaritas. If you’re in Natchez, make sure you go get knocked-naked (I keep wanting to type knocked knaked) at Fat Mama’s. You’ll have fun.

Taco Traveler: Solly’s Hot Tamales, Vicksburg Mississippi

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Arriving at Solly’s Hot Tamales on Washington Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Mr. Taco Traveler and I wondered if maybe we had gotten some bad information about where to find good tamales. From the outside, it looks like a pretty serious dive. We should know by now not to judge a place by it’s outside appearance! Knowing we were going to be driving through Mississippi on the tail end of our vacation, I knew we needed to try some of the oddly well know hot tamales in Mississippi. We’re from Texas, where tamales make perfect sense. But in Mississippi? We were wondering what all the fuss could be about.

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The menu, a photocopy taped to the ordering window, didn’t seem like very much. Tamales by the half dozen or dozen, chili burgers and chili dogs, tamale burritos and a Fiesta, whatever that was. Mr. Taco Tamale Traveler started reading the menu. I just asked what was good, “besides the tamales, obviously.” I was told the Fiesta was a speciality at Solly’s so we quickly decided on a half dozen tamales and a fiesta. We were asked if we wanted crackers. We didn’t know why we needed them but we said sure since they apparently go with tamales somehow.

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The food was on the table within three minutes. When we commented that it was such quick service we were told they get up at 4am and start cooking so even when you show up at 11am, as we did, things are pretty much ready to go.The fiesta is sort of like tamale nachos, with three tamales at the base, covered with refried beans, chili, onions, cheese, picante sauce, sour cream and jalapenos. Tortilla chips for scooping are served on the side. It was tasty and definitely not a way we had found tamales served before. All the extras do cover up the tamale flavor a little bit though. So even if you really want a Fiesta, get a few plain tamales on the side so you can really taste them.

Solly’s, started in 1939 as a food cart, has an awesome tamale recipe. Both the filling and the cornmeal (Solly’s uses white cornmeal and not masa) are seasoned extremely well. After my first bite I immediately made Mr. Taco Traveler try a bite of the tamales straight up. They were absolutely delicious. Not knowing precisely what the crackers were for, we ended up spreading chunks of tamale on them for eating which was pretty tasty too. You can really tell that the tamales are a family recipe, homemade kind of food. The flavors were dead on delicious and good enough I probably could have eaten about 2 dozen before I wanted to stop.

sollys walls

Inside the restaurant the walls are covered with newspaper clippings about Solly’s and awards that have been won. The tables and chairs are pretty basic, but Solly’s is more of a take-out place than a dine-in restaurant. While we were there, a few other customers came in. One older customer said she has been eating Solly’s since she was a little girl and even though she is not from Mississippi now, anytime she gets near Vicksburg she stops in to buy several dozen tamales. Another customer was waiting in line when someone pooped her head out of the kitchen and asked if he wanted “the usual.” When he said yes, she went into the kitchen and brought the order out within a minute or two. The place obviously has some very dedicate customers. That, I think, is the best kind of place to find. I know any time we end up in Vicksburg again, we’ll be stopping by for sure.

Solly’s Hot Tamales is definitely worth 4 tacos out of 5. You can read a bit about the history of Solly’s here or, if you get close, point your car to 1921 Washington Street, Vicksburg Mississippi, 39180.

sollys sign

Taco Traveler: Panchos Backyard, Dania Beach, Florida

Mr. Taco Traveler is taking the keyboard this week to share his thoughts on Panchos Bakyard which he visited on a recent trip to Florida.

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Today’s adventure takes us to Pancho’s Backyard in Dania Beach, Florida.  I know that when one hears Pancho’s associated with a Mexican restaurant the immediate thought is of little red flags that you raise repeatedly to get additional helpings of “food” until you’re stuffed, but this no mass produced TexMex food from a fryer, it’s delicious made to order Mexican specials!

Pancho’s Backyard is one part sport’s bar, one part patio cantina, and two parts restaurant with a dash of elegance thrown in.  You can watch your favorite football teams (that’s what the rest of the world calls soccer) on 5 large monitors around the restaurant, or you can enjoy the best of South Florida’s sun on the covered patio.  The tables and walls are decorated with bits of colored tile that brings a vibrancy to the atmosphere inside the restaurant.  Food choices range from traditional TexMex fare like fajitas to more traditional Mexican dishes like milanesa and bisteak a la Mexicana.

Your meal at Pancho’s Backyard starts with the traditional chips that come with a delicious but not too spicy salsa that incorporates bright tomato and cilantro flavors.  I had the opportunity to try two different entrees at Pancho’s Backyard: chili rellenos and bisteak a la Mexicana.  Both were very delicious interpretations of these dishes with rich and silky goat cheese in the rellenos and a spicy tomato based sauce with peppers and onions on the flank steak.  Pancho’s Backyard does a great job of incorporating traditional Mexican flavors like cumin and cilantro with its well prepared and fresh entrees.

Pancho’s Backyard is supported by a full bar but a limited beer menu.  Enjoy fresh margarita’s or other cocktail of your choice along with your meal.  Corona and Negra Modello are the two Mexican beer choices.  The wait staff are friendly and attentive without constantly hovering over your table.

Both of my meals at Pancho’s Backyard were delicious as well as a good value.  The atmosphere is enjoyable and the food delicious.  If you’re in South Florida, stop by it’s a worthy stop.  The taco traveler gives Pancho’s Backyard three tacos out of five.

Taco Traveler: The Black Bean, Hollywood, Florida

The newest installment of the Taco Traveler comes from Robert, aka Mr. Taco Traveler, while he is on the road in Florida.

This installment of the Taco Traveler is a journey away from the beloved Tex Mex cuisine into the parallel culture and food universe of Caribbean fare. Tonight I visited The Black Bean Restaurant in Hollywood Florida, on State Highway 7 just a few miles south of the Fort Lauderdale Airport.

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Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale, Florida is an area frequented by tourists and known for fancy dining and extravagant cuisine. While visiting on vacation or for business, most folks head over to Las Olas for a fancy meal or A1A for beach side dining. There are many restaurant options and cuisines represented in either of these locations, but often at a high cost. When I travel, I like to stay away from areas frequented by tourists and find unique culinary experiences savored by the locals. Tonight’s meal was just that – a local experience of delicious and authentic Cuban food.

Cuban cuisine exists at the crossroads of Spanish colonization, African slave heritage, and Caribbean flavors. It is also heavily influenced by the politics of the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent break in relations with the United States. The result is a delicious meld of rice and beans, indigenous fruits like plantains and mangoes, and slow cooked pork or beef. Cumin, peppers, onion, and bay flavors are strong. Preparations are simple and focus on making the most of the available ingredients.

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The Black Bean Restaurant delivered deliciously tonight on a very traditional Cuban meal – Ropa Vieja. This savory dish of slow cooked shredded flank steak in a rich tomato and pepper sauce served with a side of white rice and traditional black beans. The meal blended the very best elements of Cuban cooking producing a delicious meal that was very rich in flavor. The black beans deserve a special mention as an extremely flavorful part of the meal. In each bite you could taste the cumin and the bay in a creamy texture. Mixed with the rice, the black beans were heavenly.

The Black Bean is not pretentious, it’s just good local Cuban cuisine. There are no white linen table cloths and the wait staff are genuine and friendly. The decor is functional, if a bit dated, but this outing was about the food, not the trappings of the restaurant. Eight American and Caribbean beers are available in bottles to accompany your meal. Meals are very affordable at The Black Bean from $8-$20 per person. When business or pleasure brings you to South Florida, I recommend you give The Black Bean a try. You will enjoy the experience, the culture, and the food of Cuba!

A very delicious three tacos out of five.

Taco Traveler, Los Mariachis, Gainesville, Texas

A quick trip into downtown Gainseville became extremely worth it with lunch at Los Mariachis. Unassuming from the outside, inside the place has a fiesta flair in decorations without being gaudy or over the top.

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Located at 319 N. Commerce Street in Gainesville, the comfortable restaurant offers delicious Tex-Mex food at reasonable prices. Many of the dishes featured slow cooked, marinated meats that were full of flavor and authenticity.

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The Tacos al Carbon with spiced, marinated beef with a subtle smokey flavor were very tasty. I expected them to be good but I was surprised at just how good they were. The chips and salsa, refried beans and rice were all average but the beer was cold and the taco fillings were right on so it was definitely a good lunch option.

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Mr. Taco Traveler had some really tasty marinated chicken that he was not too keen on sharing so I can’t really describe it. The small bite I did have was excellent – flavorful and smokey.

If you’re in Gainseville, please stop by Los Mariachis. It is a strong 3.5 tacos out of 5. The main dishes taste like they are carefully thought out and prepared from family recipes. The sides unfortunately, do not. It is still worth a trip though.

Aparicio’s Restaurant, McKinney – Taco Traveler

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There’s not much that can compare to a cold beer and some good Mexican food at the end of a tough day. We headed out to Aparicio’s for dinner tonight. It’s located just off the main square, on Virginia Street in McKinney. The downtown area overall has been revitalized by the new streetscaping that went in. Almost all the shops are full and everything looks fresh and inviting. Aparicio’s is not new to town though. The chain, started in Plano in 1986, has had a home in McKinney for several years.

The restaurant and sports bar wins awards for things like – best margarita in McKinney and “Best Afterwork Atmosphere.” After tonight’s dinner, I can see why. Aparicio’s delivers good, quick food, friendly service and goes beyond the nacho, quesadillas and bean burritos so many Mexican restaurants serve. Sure, there were quesadillas on the menu – at least four varieties. But there were also homemade tamales, several fish options and empanadas.

The bar offers around 6 beers on tap and about 40 bottled varieties. I went for a Ziegenbock – which arrived in a very large margarita glass and Mr. Taco Traveler opted for Negra Modelo in a bottle.

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The obligatory chips and salsa were good, though nothing to write home about. The chips were nice and salty and thick, which I enjoy and the salsa was homemade and relatively mild. The taste was good and it was easy to eat plenty since there was no heat behind it.

I decided on a taco combination platter with three tacos – one al Pastor, one tinga and one carnitas. The al Pastor is a blend of seasoned pork and pineapple and comes with cilantro and onions on the side. It is sweet and juicy and Aparicio’s definitely got it right. The tinga was shredded chicken in chipotle sauce. It was definitely spicy, but then, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spice. Had I not scarfed the whole thing down, Mr. Taco Traveler, who likes spicy things, could’ve weighed in on it all. Carnitas is the seasoned pork which is marinated with orange peel and spices. It was really tasty, if a little dry.

Mr. Taco Traveler chose chicken enchiladas with green sauce.

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I could tell you how delicious it was, except for the fact that he ate it all without sharing a single, solitary nibble with me. I guess that means it was pretty good!

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I also had a small side of guacamole which was good, but not excellent. I’m a bit of a guacamole snob ever since I learned how to make it at home though.

For dinner time on Thursday the restaurant seemed relatively quiet, but there was a poker tournament going on in the basement and I could hear people upstairs in the sports bar as well. It’s hard to describe the decor of the place. It was almost an Old World Tuscan style with plaster over brick walls, some exposed brick, big, old looking pillars and heavy antique pieces around. It looked like it had some cantina roots but maybe it had outgrown them and moved on to a more sophisticated style. I was completely at ease being there in jeans and a polo shirt though, so don’t think it’s an uppity kinda place.

Mr. Taco Traveler and I agreed, it was a solid 3 out of 5 tacos for our dinner. Next time we’ll start with some margaritas and get the score higher!

Photos by Robert Clark