Atlanta’s Hidden Tamale Treasure

The last few weeks haven’t been fun. I had minor eye surgery followed by a stomach virus, followed by a cold of such ferocity that I began to wonder, “What would Jesus do?” Soon my nostrils and eyes cleared, I learned the answer. He would go to a new Mexican restaurant, Taqueria el Tesoro. That’s where I last saw his face, looming over the coffee area, gazing at an orchid in the glow of a golden, mid-century clock that looked like the sun. Thank you, Jesus. I’m going to live.


El Tesoro, which means “The Treasure,” is in the Edgewood neighborhood close to the booming Memorial corridor, but far enough away that it does remind me of the kitsch-drenched dives I treasured in rural Texas during my Houston years. I visited with two friends the Saturday afternoon it opened. Normally, I don’t do that because you can always expect something to go wrong on the first day. Except for running out of a few items on its brief menu, everything went muy bien.


Alan Raines and Darryl Howard own the new restaurant. If the name is familiar, that’s because it’s the follow-up to Cantina el Tesoro in Decatur, a fancier spot that was open from 2008 to 2010 in the rambling house that became Kevin Gillespie’s Revival. The new El Tesoro is open 7am – 2:30pm daily, serving breakfast and lunch only. The owners plan to eventually add dinner to the menu, as well as expanding the space itself to include fountains, patios, and a bar, according to the website. For now, though, it only seats about 15 diners. During my visit, people deposited their children or keys to claim a table while they waited in the lengthy but rapidly moving line. We had no difficulty getting a table, largely, I think because the restaurant is promoting itself as a take-out joint.


I liked everything that we ordered, particularly the “Frontera” taco, filled with roasted poblano peppers and onions, mushrooms, squash, and (according to the menu, but not discernible) roasted creamy corn scraped from the cob. It had quite a spicy kick, but nothing your delicate mouth can’t handle. That’s generally true of most of the food here.


I also ordered a tamale filled with shredded pork cooked in green salsa. Wrapped in a corn husk, the masa was crumbly, mouth-melting, and the smell took me quickly to Mexico. The pork was a bit dry, but you can add more salsa. My third dish was the daily soup, a massive bowl of charros – pinto beans in a rich pork broth topped with crunchy bits of fried fat, like the cracklin’s your mama puts in the cornbread. More interesting soups, including the weekend classic of pozole, are available at other times.


We also tried a burrito filled with barbacoa and a taco with borderline-fiery chipotle-spiced chicken. Tesoro offers a meat specialty every day, like the barbacoa or carne asada. I want al pastor. One dish I was anxious to try was the sold-out “mulita.” It resembles a quesadilla made with two layers of corn tortillas, filled with cheese and rajas, plus meat, if you want. For dessert, we got a few pig-shaped ginger cookies that could use a lot more ginger, but sugar is always the point in Mexico.


El Tesoro has an extensive coffee menu, and their breakfast is solid with classics, from huevos rancheros to migas and chorizo con papas. Additions include protein-rich chapulines, which they describe as dry-roasted crickets. I thought they were supposed to be grasshoppers. I just can’t eat a mariachi Jiminy Cricket.