Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Tamale Kitchen serves up old family recipe in Kalamazoo

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Tamale Kitchen serves up old family recipe in Kalamazoo

KALAMAZOO, MI — A retired drywaller who began selling tamales at farmers markets 10 years ago, David Rodriguez is right at home in his small kitchen off South Sprinkle Road.

“If you don’t call this the American dream, I don’t know what is,” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “We’ve got our own kitchen, can cook whatever we want and we’ve got a TV in our kitchen.”

Rodriguez, 60, is a lively character. Ask anyone who has stopped by Premium Authentic Tamale Kitchen, which he opened in 2019 with his wife, Paula, at 2120 S. Sprinkle Road.

Born into a migrant family, Rodriguez spent his early years in Texas before his family moved to a farm west of Kalamazoo where he and his siblings spent their teen years.

“He’s come a long way since then,” Paula Rodriguez says with pride.

A hard worker who spent 28 years finishing drywall for one company, it wasn’t long before David Rodriguez got bored in his retirement. So, as a hobby, he took his late mother, Geneva’s, recipe, allowed his wife to put her own touch to it and the couple began selling tamales at farmers markets and to neighbors and friends.

Paula Rodriguez, 56, said she hand-rolls about 2,000 tamales a week in traditional corn husks, either at the restaurant or in the evenings at home in the couple’s kitchen. When holidays like Cinco De Mayo roll around, she knows that number is going to be much higher, though.

In addition to the recipe, the secret is in steaming the tamales for just the right amount of time and at the right temperature, David Rodriguez said.

“It’s all about experience. If you let them cook too long, they’ll dry up on you,” he said. “The more you get acquainted with them, the better you perfect them, but the main thing is the recipe.”

That recipe, an old family one, isn’t going to be divulged, but he did say there is cumin and garlic mixed in with a variety of other spices.

The Tamale Kitchen is open six days a week and on four of them tamales are all that’s on the menu, along with authentic rice and beans and their own version of Elote, which instead of being served on a cob, is served in a cup. On Mondays and Fridays, the couple serves up tacos and tostadas.

“We don’t have a big-time menu, we keep it simple because the tamale, that’s enough,” David Rodriguez said. “I could make a killer taco or an enchilada with all the sauces and all that, but my product is primarily this right here, the tamales.”

Guests at the drive-thru — which will soon have a back patio open for on-site dining — typically have the choice between pork and chicken tamales. Occasionally, Paula Rodriguez said, they offer specials such as southwest tamales, which feature sweet potatoes, black beans, peppers onions and cilantro.

Specials, with a minimum order of a dozen, can be ordered anytime with a two-day advance, she said.

In addition to the drive-thru, tamales can be ordered online through grub hub or door dash, but for special orders people need to call.

“We’re all about being simple and affordable,” she said.

Tamales cost $2.12 apiece or $21.20 for a dozen and are served with mild or sour cream, guacamole and mild or hot sauce. Of course, meal specials with rice and beans are also available.

The Premium Authentic Tamale Kitchen is open from noon-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. The kitchen is closed on Sundays. For more information or to place an order click here or contact 269-903-2322. If placing an order for Cinco De Mayo, contact the kitchen by no later than May 4.

Visit the kitchen on Facebook here.

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