Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Way, Right Away? At Hot Tamales, It's Their Way or...Get the Hell Out!

As we have said several times before, we, the people behind the proverbial curtain of The Pizza Project, cannot survive on sauce, cheese, and crust alone. Every once in a while, we have to try something else. And, for myself, I have probably tried one place more than any other when it comes to eating lunch in Center City Philadelphia, where I have toiled for over 10 years. That place is Hot Tamales, a maker of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and other fare. In all the time I have been going there, I never really stopped to take a critical view of why it is that I frequent the place in such loyal fashion. That is, until now.

For my lunch, I ordered two items: an "original" beef burrito and a black bean and fiesta rice burrito. First up was the beef burrito, which is a very simple item consisting of beef, tomato, lettuce, sour cream, and shredded cheese. While I, of course, enjoy the item (I have ordered both many a time), the beef did seem to be a little bit salty and the sour cream (a condiment that I have only recently begun to develop a palette for) sometimes seemed like the No. 1 ingredient. The hot sauce that I applied to add flavor was of great assistance, but I must say I wouldn't really describe it as being particularly "hot." Spicy? Sure. But it is not something that is going to add any sort of great kick or get you sweating a bit in the eyebrow area. The most intriguing thing I found about the dish on this occasion is that it wasn't even particularly hot temperature-wise. It was almost as if the tortilla had been taken out of a refrigerator directly before it was wrapped around the internal goods.


Then I moved to the black bean and fiesta rice burrito. Again, very straight-forward item with nothing in the way of culinary adventurousness. It's just beans, lettuce, salsa, and a rice that may be called "fiesta," but it certainly ain't no kind of party. It's not spicy. It's not particularly seasoned. It's just...rice. The hot sauce once again provided the stand-out flavor presence on the item.

So this is what I realized when I decided to look inward and figure out why I have been heading to Hot Tamales through two different jobs: It sure ain't for the food. Sure, there aren't many other options in the city (or at least in my area) if you want a Mexican fix and you don't feel like sitting down for something like the Mexican Post, but if nothing is really jumping out at you off the plate, it would make sense that you would eventually just find another option. So as I searched for a reason why I often go back to the place, it slowly dawned on me that there can only be one reason: the service.

Now, this will not make a lot of sense to you, but when I say that I enjoy their service, it isn't particularly because it is what we, as consumers, have been led to believe is "good." Sure, it is true that, in all those years, they have never once got my order wrong. It is also true that the order in which they get you your food is tremendously...orderly. Unlike the salad joints that give you a random number and get you your food whenever they get to it (or a Wawa, which is, like, the picture of anarchy), Hot Tamales gets it to you so that it is almost always directly after the person who ordered in front of you. They also keep the place tremendously clean via a guy who walks around perpetually wiping the previous diners' crumbs from the table surfaces. Price can also be considered a service, yeah? Well, that is always right, with the two burritos I purchased costing me a very manageable $5.50 or so.

Still, this isn't exactly what I enjoy about their service. How can I say this? I find a lot of American adults to be, um, self-important, immature, sissified, annoying, instant-gratification-requiring little babies. So when I confront these people in Hot Tamales, it is quite simply deliciously fun to see them get their comeuppance courtesy of cashier/part-owner The Lady with the Long Black Hair and 1,000-Yard Stare When Provoked (I have no idea what her name is and I don't think I care to do the research at 10:38 at night). Oh, the things I have seen at Hot Tamales!!!

I have seen people repeatedly nonplussed by the fact that they are simply given one napkin per item. Like, really, how many napkins do you need? It is amazing how people are constantly able to make do with the amount that they are given when usually they would take enough paper to wipe their arse for three weeks in the jungle.

I have seen people balk at the fact that they have to pay the 19 cents for the to-go hot sauce. Well, F you, buddy! Why should you get for free what these people have to pay for in droves to make sure it is their for your liberal application (it is supplied for free if you eat in-house)?

Have you ever had to wait behind some of these people at other establishments as they study the menu like they were cramming for the bar exam? Or what about being stuck behind one of these schmucks as they count up the change in their pocketbooks to make sure that they can give just the correct amount of pennies? Well, at Hot Tamales, the person ogling the board is promptly skipped. And the person counting the change? Cashier Lady just switches to the other register and Mrs. Exact Change is lucky to get her order completed by the next Presidential election cycle.

Let's quickly go over some other violations that you really just DON'T want to commit at Hot Tamales:
Talking on the phone while ordering - Beware: Your phone might end up in the chili crock.
Listening to your musical device while ordering
- You might as well be listening to "I Ran So Far Away" because that is what you will want to do once Cashier Lady is done lambasting your azz. If she even takes your order.
Place your money on the counter as opposed to directly into Cashier Lady's hand - If you think your change will be placed into your hand after you do this, you are sadly, SADLY mistaken. Your change retrieval ritual will most likely require bending to the floor.
Try to pay with credit card - Does this seem like the kind of place that would put up with your credit card company's payment charge? Bring cash, or risk a tongue-lashing.
Ask for extra napkins - Dude, just use your shirt because I am deathly afraid of witnessing physical confrontation.
Complain about your order in any way whatsoever - This place doesn't make mistakes. The customer is always right? Not up in here. Your gripe will be contested. Vehemently. Like, I have seen this lady get up in people's faces and then go back to taking orders like she swatted away a gnat.

Well, I think that about covers it. Fact is the food served at Hot Tamales is not something you would ever see produced on a cooking show with a bunch of hopeful contestants and a "celebrity chef" that no one should really give an arse about anyway. It is Americanized Mexican food. It's cheap. It's simple. It's hearty enough to get you through your worday afternoon. But in a world that suffers fools gladly, pumping out new electronic gadgets for their endless delight and perpetual cash expenditure, putting up with their every idiotic whim in pursuit of their patronage, it is good to know that there is a place out their that really couldn't give less of a rat's behind what the customer expects from a dining experience. Just order, pay, wait a little bit, and then eat.

Maybe you'll come back again, maybe you won't. Either way, the Cashier Lady doesn't really seem to care. And this is why she will be seeing me soon and for many years to come. I like a little rude with my food.

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Hot Tamales
1805 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Hot Tamales on Urbanspoon

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