Grub Scout: Tamales take center stage at Knoxville Center mall

Tamales take center stage at Knoxville Center

— 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.

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Comments » 9

JKM writes:

"The meat fillings were indeed safely ensconced in deep-fried corn-meal shells"

I have never once heard of a deep-fried tamale, they are steamed! Once again, the Grub Scout proves that he knows next to nothing about food.

When will we get a food critic that can actually point Knoxvillians in the right direction when it comes to discovering the great food culture we have in this city?!

whstoneman writes:

I wouldn't go to East Town Mall if the food and/or merchandise was free. I refer to the hovel as East Town Mall since that is the last time I was there. Change the name, but you can't change the danger.

Digger writes:

in response to whstoneman:

I wouldn't go to East Town Mall if the food and/or merchandise was free. I refer to the hovel as East Town Mall since that is the last time I was there. Change the name, but you can't change the danger.

You might be surprised to know that crime at West Town Mall is rising at a much faster rate than Knoxville Center. In fact, crime at Knoxville Center has actually dropped every year since 2008.

aguy#276948 writes:

in response to whstoneman:

I wouldn't go to East Town Mall if the food and/or merchandise was free. I refer to the hovel as East Town Mall since that is the last time I was there. Change the name, but you can't change the danger.

I can't help but chuckle at chickens who are terrified by anything east of Sequoyah Hills.
I don't go to malls if I can help it, but I'd much rather go to Knoxville Center than to West Town, due to the ample parking available.

aguy#276948 writes:

I miss Mary's Tamales on Magnolia. Those ladies there made AWESOME tamales.
However, their retirement was probably good for my cholesterol levels.

knoxville_born writes:

The independently operated burger joint (the name of which I forget) at the Knoxville Center food court is way better than Tamal Express. I've eaten there a few times and it's always been good.

bob writes:

"My biggest misgiving was the fact that my serving could have been much hotter in temperature."

Duude, YOU ARE AT THE FOOD COURT AT A RUN DOWN MALL, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?

Thanks for the laughs, Mr Grub Scout. We can always count on you to embarrass yourself to the point where one cant help but laugh!!!

bob writes:

" I had heard some good buzz — online and off — about Tamal Express at Knoxville Center mall."

You have to be just making this stuff up. Please point me to this "online buzz" that you mention. Yelp has 1 review, UrbanSpoon has 0 reviews, 0 likes and 0 dislikes, and a Google search turns up nothing. The Grub Scout is truly concocting false information to feed us. UNbelievable!!

maja writes:

JKM is correct, there is no such thing as a deep fried tamale(the term used in New Mexico, a little more authentic than east Tennessee).I don't know what the grub scout ate, but it wasn't a tamale.

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