When Markus Pineyro was thinking about a Mexican restaurant food concept 10 years ago, he wanted to do something different than what being done in Dallas. The city’s food culture, he says, has changed so much since he opened his Urban Taco concept.
Now, Pineyro says, people are more educated about Mexican cuisine, and customers are willing to try new things like lengua. They want to know how their carnitas are cooked. To shake up the landscape a bit, he decided to combine some of his best-selling taco fillings and put them inside tamales.
“For our customers, eating their favorite taco in a tamale sounded very interesting,” Pineyro says. “It’s a combination of the tradition of here in Dallas, Texas, and Mexico.”
For the past eight years, the folks at Urban Taco have graced DFW with their 12 Days of Tamales special. Starting Dec. 13, the restaurant rolls out a new tamale with a different filling every day until Christmas Eve, and customers can eat them in house or order them by the dozen ahead of time.
Pineyro, a Mexico City native, says he learned of tamales' importance when he moved to the area to attend Southern Methodist University.
“Funny enough, what I realized was that it [is] also a pretty big Texas tradition,” he said. “It's very Southern. All these places sell out of tamales, like at La Popular Tamale House. My customers were asking for them, and I decided to do the same thing.”
For chilangos (Mexico City residents), the usual tamales sold by street vendors are chile verde with chicken, Oaxacan-style tamales wrapped in banana leaves or sweet tamales. Up north, the traditional style is pork in a red guajillo sauce. But no matter where you’re from, tamales are typically accompanied by a glass of champurrado, Mexico’s version of hot chocolate, made from corn.
Although Pineyro is serving decidedly nontraditional tamales during a very tradition-oriented time of year, he says the experiment is going well.
If you're in the mood for a different kind of tamale to bring back to mom's house this year, here are a few of Urban Taco's 12 Days of Tamales specials.
Carnitas con Mole Poblano
Mole poblano is probably the most famous of all the mole varieties. It’s made by combining a few different chiles, chocolate and a whole lot of other ingredients, giving it a rich, dark brown color. For Pineyro, it’s the one that stands out the most.
“Just a nice blend of traditional flavors that wouldn't normally go together,” he says. “But in a tamale, they just work. A little bit of the sweet and spice with the nice carnitas.”
Dos Equis Amber Barbacoa and Chorizo
Barbacoa isn’t your typical tamale filling — this is one of Urban Taco's taco-tamale hybrids.
“When we do our barbacoa, we let it cool in its juices,” Aaron Nelson, culinary director for Urban Taco, says. “Almost like duck confit and the French, except we do it with Dos Equis Amber beer and chipotle. So just letting it cool down for a day or two makes it taste so much better."
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One of the true holiday pleasures is spending time with family and friends — and eating a tamale de dulce after dinner.
“It's like a dessert,” Pineyro says. “Those are fun to eat because they are not savory. It makes for a really nice dessert.”
The Yucatán favorite not only makes for one of the best taco fillings, but it’s flexible enough to go inside a tamale. The combination of pulled pork, acidity and masa makes it an easy choice if you want to try something new.
Potato Zucchini con Queso Fresco
For the vegetarians out there, this is one for you. Pineyro says the mixture of these ingredients makes it melt in your mouth. Zucchini and queso fresco pair naturally together, and the potato thickens it up a bit.