Tamal nejo, La Guerrerense

In Cragin, around the intersection of Fullerton and Cicero, there’s a small pocket of businesses that cater to folks hailing from the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero; specifically a couple of taquerias and a representative office of the state government. Both taquerias, Taqueria Cotzio and La Guerrerense, serve the standard array of antojitos and platillos, including handmade tortillas, but both also serve something on weekends you don’t frequently find anywhere outside of Guerrero itself.

Tamales nejos, La Guerrerense

Tamales nejos are flat, unstuffed tamales that are steamed in banana leaves. They have a smooth, dense, almost rubbery texture—not coarse and not fluffy. (I wager that’s because they’re not made with baking powder.) During the cooking process the masa is supposed to be mixed with ash, yet a server at La Guerrerense says that isn’t the case with their tamales. There isn’t a lot of information in English about these unusual tamales, but there is a good description of the cooking process in Maria Elisa Christie’s Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico, which includes a crucial bit of information: if people fight around the tamales, or are angry, or desire them too much, the food is ruined. These tamales feel your pain and desire.

Mole verde y rojo, La Guerrerense

Tamales nejos are filling and bland, but the banana leaves impress ridges in them, which make them ideally suited for their true purpose: delivering mole to your mouth hole. At La Guerrerense, there’s the option of a rich, chocolatey mole rojo or a nutty pumpkin seed mole verde. Each comes with a fall-off-the-bone chicken leg and four tamales for $11.49. La Guerrerense also serves two terrific table salsas, one made from chiles de arbol, the other tomatillos. On the weekends there’s a passable carne en su jugo that’s full of thick-cut bacon ($7.99), and a fairly lifeless pozole rojo ($8.49).

La Guerrerense

La Guerrerense, 4758 W. Fullerton, 773-661-6075