You would be forgiven for mistaking Tamale House for a familiar home.
Words by Ben Haguewood Photos by Ashley Haguewood
The Valera family built the East 6th location decades back, and it served as their residence until it became the restaurant’s most recent destination, migrating from storefronts on Congress and later Airport Boulevard, to the current tucked away location, topped with Spanish tile and surrounded by a shaded patio with lush vegetation. Now the family–Diane, Carmen, Robert, Juan, and Colombina–run the Tex-Mex fixture with a classic, but still evolving and inspired, menu from the home where some of them were raised.
Recipes are often aspects of family history and generational continuity, passed down and taught by doing rather than found in a book. This makes them special, but also vulnerable to loss. So, when daughter Carmen Valera began working in the family business, she decided that some recipes were too special to risk losing, and began writing them down.
Today, Tamale House’s menu is filled with Tex-Mex comfort food like the best-selling Mom’s Migas, spiked with a chipotle ranchero sauce, enchiladas smothered in moles and other home-style sauces, a slate of classic tacos, and of course their namesake tamales.
The long-time staff makes the tamales in big batches, standing around tubs of masa, stacks of corn husks, and classic fillings in the restaurant’s kitchen, where they’re served up for lunch and dinner plates as well as bulk sale around holidays.
The six-generation Austinites have a long history on the east side that the menu reflects, but they’re not just resting on the past. The restaurant is always experimenting both with new food and events, hosting private groups and events open to the public, such as the jazz brunch featuring local group Scrapelli, and special pop-up nights featuring exploratory dishes like the Seven Moles of Oaxaca, and pairings with breweries like Austin’s own Independence. Staff meals are also an occasion for Diane and son Robert to feature a dish they’ve encountered in travel or experimentation, that may be featured as a special or wind up on the menu permanently. There’s a lot for them to draw on, but much like east Austin, the family history is still being written.
1707 E. 6th Street