For years, the unnamed tamale cart at Santa Rosa’s Grocery Outlet was something of an insider secret. No one knew much about who owned it, but if you were craving steamed masa dough filled with pork, chicken or pineapple on a Saturday morning, chances are it would be there. Hopefully.
The bad news: That cart is now gone from its weekly Fourth Street location. The good news: The husband and wife team behind the popular tamales have collaborated with a local restaurateur to open their first brick-and-mortar location, Tamales Mana (“tamales from heaven”), in southeast Santa Rosa.
For more than a decade Manuel Morales, his wife, Lucina, and mother-in-law have been selling these Mexican celebration treats out of various food carts in Roseland and Santa Rosa. In that time, Morales says they’ve perfected the generations-old family recipe for cornmeal dough filled with meat, cheese, beans or sweet fruit. But Morales says the secret to their tamales is what they don’t contain.
“No manteca (pork lard) and nothing from cans. Everything is from scratch. Other people may use cans, but the only cans we have here are for soda,” said Manuel. Instead of lard, the Morales use soybean oil to thicken the cornmeal. “Americans are afraid of lard,” he said.
The result is a less greasy, less dry tamale that doesn’t require three bottles of Mexican Coke and a tamarindo to get down. Steamed in corn husks, his tamales come in eight flavors: Peurco Rojo (pork in red sauce), bean and cheese, Pollo Verde (chicken in green sauce), jalapeno and cheese, Mole chicken, Dulce Pina (sweet pineapple) and Dulce Pasas (sweet raisin) and vegetable and cheese. The mole chicken and the raisin-filled are among the most popular. Dressed up with house made salsa and crema they’re even more decadent.
Morales’ unique tamales are what first attracted the attention of Superburger owner Bill Cordell, who for years stopped at the Fourth Street tamale cart every Saturday to buy tamales for the employees of his nearby hamburger restaurant.
“ I loved his tamales and was intrigued by his really moist masa recipe. I loved his homemade salsas, especially the red one that burns my scalp off,” said Cordell.
The two found an easy friendship, and Cordell eventually helped Morales with funding a storefront and production facility for his tamales.
“Manuel and I learn from each other the things we don’t already know and help each other with the skills we are each good at. He keeps the tamales steaming and I keep the business on track and the facilities running, a very good match,” said Cordell.
Cordell, who will soon open Taco Lab in Windsor, will sell Morales’ tamales at the fast-casual global taqueria and envisions creating more “hole-in-the-wall” tamale spots throughout the county, with Morales’ Tamales Mana as the central production facility.
Morales plans to expand the selection of tamales soon, but keep the everyday pricing at less than $2.50 a tamale. They’re cheaper at the Dutton Plaza cart (443 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa) at just $2 each. At the shop, Tamales Maná, tamales sell for $2.35. Three tamales, beans and rice are under $10.
Don’t expect to pick up tamales for dinner, however. Tamales Maná is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday. You can get day-old tamales half-price if they have any left. 1110 Petaluma Hill Road, 707-595-5742.