Mistress of Masa

At Tamales Garibay, the difference is in the masa

Alicia Romero began selling tamales 15 years ago, peddling up to 1,000 per weekend outside of nightclubs and music venues, like the Aragon.

After a self-imposed break, Romero is now back, steaming dozens of tamales per day behind the bright purple façade of her tiny new restaurant, Tamales Garibay.

Her husk-wrapped bundles are superb, and her grandmother deserves the credit, she says. Following her abuelita's recipe, which she learned as a girl in Guerrero, Mexico, tomatillo leaf and other herbs and spices are steeped in water that is then incorporated into the masa. This savory tea turns the masa nearly as flavorful as the filling, and renders it exceptionally creamy.

Try the generously sized tamales ($1.75, or three for $5) packed with fresh jalapeños and yellow and white cheddar, or with braised chicken, colored red by guajillo chiles or green by tomatillo-jalapeño sauce. Pair them with champurrado, a long-simmered drink of masa, chocolate and cinnamon.

"It's my tradition to sell in the street," says Romero, and if a morning tamal craving hits, you'll find her outside Garibay at 6:30 a.m., selling to commuters before opening the restaurant's doors at 9 a.m.

Tamales Garibay, 3859 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-267-6721 or tamalesgaribay.com