KNOXVILLE — Thought I'd do something a little different this time around. This week, I actually paid an official visit to a mall food-court vendor. This isn't part of my usual protocol, but I had heard some good buzz — online and off — about Tamal Express at Knoxville Center mall.
Tamal Express is run by the same folks who own Mexico Lindo restaurant, and it being virtually the only independently run eatery in that food court, I felt compelled to go check it out.
The elder Grub Sprout and I dropped in on the early end of the lunch hour and scanned Tamal's overhead menu sign, which, as one would expect, offers a number of tamale options. You can get two tamales, topped with your choice of red, green, brown or mole sauce for $6.79.
Also available for the same price are three tamales in brown sauce and three covered in yellow cheese sauce. I ordered the Tamales Supreme, which is three tamales — one chicken, one beef, one pork — with lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream for $6.99.
The Sprout focused on the combo meals, which offer a choice of two ($6.79) or three ($8.49) items from among the following: hard-shell taco, burrito, enchilada, chimichanga, tamal (the preferred Spanish singular form, I discovered) and quesadilla. He selected a beef enchilada and a beef quesadilla. All combos are served with beans and rice.
Other meal offerings include taco salad, chiles rellenos, tacos carnitas, fajitas and nachos supreme, and these items and more are available a la carte as well. I also noticed signage for a loaded burrito with chips and salsa for $3.99 (I came close to ordering that too), chicken fajitas with sides for $5.99 and a bowl of chili with two tamales for $5.79.
Tamale lovers should also know that you can order a dozen tamales to go (they're all homemade, by the way) for $16.99.
After a wait of a few minutes, The Sprout and I carried our trays of food to our pick of empty food-court tables and set about digging in.
I thought the tamales were pretty good though perhaps not as stellar as what I had been led to believe. The meat fillings were indeed safely ensconced in deep-fried corn-meal shells, and the fillings themselves were fairly rationed and distinctly flavorful. My biggest misgiving was the fact that my serving could have been much hotter in temperature. I had the impression that perhaps my order was prepared first and sat out for a few minutes. It was just long enough to let too much of a chill set in.
The Sprout's items were OK as well. The generously sized, half-moon fajita benefited from gooey meat and cheese fillings, while the enchilada was rather straightforward with its ground beef innards and thin flour tortilla exterior. The beans and rice were definitely weak links and were hardly worth the effort.
For the record, desserts like churros, sopapillas, cheesecake chimichangas and flan are on the menu, although for some reason, The Sprout and I just completely forgot about following up our lunch with something sweet.
If you've got Christmas shopping coming up at Knoxville Center and in-mall dining is part of your plans, you might want to give Tamal Express a try. Otherwise, I think there is any number of other local Mexican-food eateries that follow a similar train of thought.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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