About a week and a half ago I had a mom/daughter date with my 10-year-old girl. The plan was to go hang out at Powell's on Hawthorne, maybe get some good reads, then find somewhere to grab a bite for dinner.
After helping each other find good books and window-shopping around Hawthorne street for a while, we started to get hungry and headed up the street to Por Que No. When we entered, the place was very crowded and there was quite a line to order. We looked at the menu and quickly decided to share a tamale plate and two fish tacos. We grabbed out number and headed out to the back, where the makeshift covered seating (think corrugated plastic roofs) and decoration was quaintly reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos kitsch.
Our food arrived, and the tamale plate looked AMAZING. It was artistically arranged over banana leaves, and included two sauce-topped pork tamales garnished with crema, a small side of Mexican rice and pinto beans to boot. The shredded cabbage, cilantro and fresh pico de gallo on the side were a tasty touch and the perfect cool/fresh contrast to the hearty meal. The tamales themselves may have been delicious to someone NOT intimately familiar with authentic Mexican tamales (not to mention Nicaraguan Nacatamales, Peruvian tamales and other varieties). To me, however, the masa resembled more of a spiced polenta than a true tamale dough. The meat was tender, but lacked some spice. Unfortunately, the sauce served over the top did not make up for this. The true highlight of this combo was the rice. It was like Mexican rice on garlic steroids. The garlic flavor was strong and aromatic, and made up for the lack of flavor of the tamales. It made me wish I'd ordered a bowl of rice rather than this pretty ensemble.
The fish tacos, on the other hand were definitely something to write home about. The small, soft tortillas had a real homemade maiz flavor. They were so fresh, I expected to see an abuelita grinding corn in a molcajete. Instead, I got a forward-thinking flavor combination that fused a crispy cornmeal crust on flaky Alaskan cod topped with salsa verde, crema, shredded cabbage, pineapple, and of course - onion and cilantro. The effect was a gourmet twist on the island tacos I'd had in in Maui this past May. ANYTHING that brings me back to those days is A-Okay in my book.