When I needed 25 pounds of fresh masa for a Christmas tamalada, or tamale-making party, I turned to Posa’s El Merendero Tamale Factory & Restaurant. The masa was spectacular, redolent of roasted corn, with a nubbly texture,
perfect for my gang’s 300+ tamales. Part of the reason for the deep flavor is that Posa’s nixtamalizes its own corn, which means they start with whole kernels and treat them in a bath of cal or calcium hydroxide, the alkaline liquid that loosens the hull on the kernels, making the vitamins and minerals more accessible. The process is what turns regular everyday corn into posole, giving it a distinctive texture. That posole can be ground into fresh masa, which holds together for the preparation of tortillas or tamales, in particular. Many other restaurants start from dried ground masa, which doesn’t result in nearly as full a flavor.
Though my group of ten wanted the communal experience of making tamales together, we really didn’t have to work so hard. The Posa’s team easily would have crafted those tamales for us. The tamale factory and assembly line sit immediately behind the restaurant. I love the giant picture window, through which patrons can watch the tamales being hand-formed, starting with masa-smeared corn husks at one end and concluding with a pile of plump tamales at the other.
it began with tamales
The whole operation began more than half a century ago with a single delectable recipe for classic red chile-and-shredded pork-stuffed tamales. Still used today, it was the creation of the grandmother of current owners, brother-and-sister team Jeff Posa and Johanna Posa Pacheco.
It was Jeff and Johanna’s parents, Carmen and Antonio Posa, though, who really put the business on the map. They expanded both the tamale offerings and the restaurant menu. Today’s tamale fillings, in addition to the original, include green chile-chicken, and green chile-cheese, a combo that was developed at the request of area Sikhs who wanted a vegetarian version to enjoy. Now there’s a vegan tamale too, with black beans and calabacitas, and vegetable oil in the masa rather than lard. Turkey tamales make a star turn on the menu every Thanksgiving. The tamales can be shipped worldwide, and are found fresh and frozen at New Mexico supermarkets, plenty of gas stations and convenience stores, and of course, at Posa’s itself.
The restaurant’s a simple space, where you order at the counter after perusing the big board menu, which extends way beyond tamales and cousins like tamale pies. It can take a few minutes to absorb all the possibilities. The green and red chiles here, hailing from Salem, near Hatch in Southern New Mexico, are flavorful without being blistering.
The staff puts together most any combo of meat and/or bean burritos, handheld or plated and smothered. The namesake Posa’s comes with shredded pork, beans, cheese, and chile. They offer a Frito pie burrito too, with the traditional pie fixings filling the tortilla. If you’re reading this on St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a corned beef burrito with — of course — green chile. Enchiladas, hard and soft tacos, and fajitas are also available. All come with flour tortillas or poofy sopaipillas, a touch sweet, but always good with honey as well. This is one place where side options always include calabacitas with green chile and corn along with the more usual beans, posole, or rice.
Breakfast at Posa’s
Posa’s offers a full breakfast menu daily. The huevos rancheros here are heartier than many I’ve tried around town, ladled generously with chile, then served with fajita-like ribbons of beef or chicken, chorizo, breakfast sausage, bacon, or a cheese tamale. Of course, there’s a breakfast burrito but I like the breakfast bowl here too, which combines the same ingredients in an unexpected form. Carne adovada and eggs is a real morning eye-opener. Cool down with the watermelon juice, agua sandia, available whenever melon is fresh.
Posa’s — A Love Story
At its heart, Posa’s is a love story as well as a family legacy. Some six decades ago, Carmen was a recent high school graduate of the Santa Fe’s Loretto Academy, when she joined some cousins for a Mexican vacation. At the hotel pool, there was a flurry of excitement about a striking young Spaniard. Unbeknownst to Carmen, it was wrestler Antonio Posa, who had just won the 1962 National Alliance World Championship in Mexico City. She knew nothing about his fame, which delighted him. He eventually got her to agree to a date. The two enjoyed a whirlwind three-month courtship before marrying. They traveled the world for his successful two-decade career.
When it came time to settle down, they chose Santa Fe, and bought her parents’ small cafe, then known as El Merendero. Carmen and Antonio worked in the business, side-by-side, growing it substantially. The elder Posas both passed away earlier this year. Perhaps more than just the food business itself, they handed down a legacy of hard work, strong ethics, and a gracious nature, the most valuable inheritance of all.
1514 Rodeo Rd.
Monday – Saturday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.