On a recent Sunday afternoon, the playful chatter of families and children mingled with songs from Mexican pop rock group Mana at Evelia’s Tamales. A worker dressed in a black polo shirt sporting the bright yellow Evelia’s Tamales logo darts around the restaurant, taking orders and ensuring customers are happy. There is only one table open, perfect for the couple that just walked in. They glance down at their phones and up at the restaurant, confirming they’re in the right place.
It’s been six months since we first told you the story of Evelia’s Tamales, whose owner, Evelia Coyotzi, went from a push cart vendor to a brick and mortar location in March 2022. Since then, business has boomed, with Evelia’s Tamales not only becoming a neighborhood staple, but also a magnet for foodies from all over the five boroughs and beyond. Epicenter’s Andrea Pineda-Salgado caught up with Coyotzi’s son, John Garcia, about what the transformation has been like.
“It’s been great because of all the media that have interviewed us. We’ve received a variety of clients that come early in the morning till late in the evening,” Garcia says. “Americans, African Americans, different kinds of Latinos such as Ecuadorians and Dominicans — not all Mexicans. This is great because we want to create food not just for Mexican people but for everyone to try.”
Despite it being a challenging time for restaurants in general, Evelia’s Tamales hasn’t encountered any significant obstacles. The biggest challenge is making sure people know it serves more than just tamales, which can be tricky when the word ‘tamales’ is in the name.
“We are releasing weekly specials encouraging people to try new plates and food, such as our tacos, tortas [a Mexican sandwich] and our selection of Mexican breakfasts such as huevos divorciados [eggs placed on fried tortillas and separated by a salsa roja and a salsa verde] and chilaquiles [fried corn tortillas soaked in salsa topped with eggs and cheese],” Garcia says.
Evelia’s Tamales debuted a new and improved menu this week. Tacos dorados, fried rolled tacos, enchiladas and various stews such as a Mexican-style chicken and beef served with tortillas, rice and beans, will be added for customers to sample. The more Garcia and his mom interact with customers, the more they learn about what people want.
Garcia explained customers would often ask for a non-spicy version of a dish for their children. For example, the picaditas, a fried dough base layered with green or red salsa and topped with cotija cheese and cream, can be too spicy for children, and customers have asked to swap the salsa for mashed beans. This led Evelia’s Tamales to create a children’s menu that includes mashed bean picaditas, mini quesadillas and breaded chicken with potatoes.
Come fall, you’ll be able to cozy up with a book and some atole, a masa-based beverage, or a cafe de olla, Mexican coffee, along with mini pan dulces, sweet Mexican pastries.
Evelia’s Tamales has also begun catering for parties and events like taquizas, a Mexican party where a variety of tacos are served. And soon, people living in other parts of the country will be able to enjoy Coyotzi’s tamales — there will soon be a mail-order option for frozen tamales.
“Sometimes people will comment and tell us, ‘I live in California’ or ‘I live in Wyoming or Texas and I want to try your tamales.’ Hopefully, with some kind of online subscription service or online ordering, they will be able to try them,” Garcia says.
In New York, longtime customers continue have been following Evelia’s journey. Juan Carlos Ortega has been a customer of Coyotzi since he first came to the United States 17 years ago.
“I always come here for the tamales, for the tamales and the champurrado [chocolate atole]. Everything here is amazing. I love the pork chicharron tamales, the mole ones,” he says. “They have incredible service, I would tell people to try all of the tamales, they are delicious.”
Other customers recently found out about Evelia’s Tamales through recent press the restaurant has received.
“I read about it in The New Yorker, so I said ‘I have to go there because it’s right down the street [from where I live],’”says Luke Fitzpatrick, who was visiting Evelia’s for the fifth time. “It’s top notch, great tamales. My favorite tamale is the green tamale and I would describe it as an explosion of lime cilantro flavor on a warm corn packet.”
Due to its popularity, Garcia says they are also thinking about expanding and adding another push cart in Brooklyn, as the Roosevelt Avenue pushcart continues to be busy. They are taking it slow, but customers can expect to find another yellow push cart soon.
“I lived through Evelia’s Tamales’ evolution, [back when Coyotzi would be interviewed on her pushcart] I didn’t know what was happening. I had just come from Mexico when Anthony Bourdain came to interview us at the house,” Garcia says. “I feel great, and I feel proud of everything we have been able to accomplish. We’ve learned so much. Everything is new and a little difficult but I am very happy to be part of Evelia’s Tamales’ growth.”
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