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A Tamal From Evelia’s Is One of the Best Ways to Spend $1.50 in NYC Right Now

This staple of Corona street food, hit by a recent price hike, is as good as ever, critic Ryan Sutton writes

An assortment of rainbow tamales from Evelia’s Tamales in Queens.
A collection of tamales from Evelia’s.
Ryan Sutton/Eater NY

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Underneath the rumble of the 7 train at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Junction Boulevard, a line forms behind a small metal pushcart. This is where Evelia Coyotzi, a native of Tlaxcala, Mexico, sells tamales in shades of green, brown, rust, and fuschia. She starts vending before dawn, often at 4:30 a.m., just like she’s been doing since 2002.

She and her staffers pour piping hot champurrado and other atoles into tall cups. They take online orders on a tablet, occasionally calling up customers to inform them that, say, chicken is sold out. “But we have chicharron,” they’ll add. They count dollar bills quickly as orders are filled. And they heave giant metal containers onto the cart, after which they’ll retrieve, for you, a precious mole tamal. You then unwrap the corn husk, breathe in the aroma of maize, and let the heat of the inky sauce defrost your insides with the force of an electric generator.

The mole tamal, like most of Coyotzi’s delicious fare, conveys nourishment at very reasonable prices. Most selections are $1.50 apiece, or $3 for larger Oaxacan tamales, though regulars know that everything here is more than a bit more expensive now than previously. A COVID-related price hike is to blame.

People stand in line at a street vendor, Evelia’s Tamales, under a New York City subway line.
Patrons waiting in line at Evelia’s.

“Please note that as of December 1, 2021, there will be a [price] increase in all items on our menu,” a note reads, in Spanish, on the cart’s Instagram page. The caption goes on to cite increased supply costs since the beginning of the pandemic as a driving factor, alongside overall inflation and rising overhead costs. “This is the first time in over 20 years that we have increased the price of our product,” the statement reads.

The regular tamales and small atoles are now 50 cents pricier, while Oaxacan tamales are $1 more expensive each.

“We sincerely hope you understand and continue to support our business,” the caption concludes. That’s a proper increase for anyone who regularly patronizes Evelia’s, especially in an era when residential rents are rising faster than wages — and in a borough where the jobless rate is almost double the national level. If you regularly take a morning meal of two tamales three times a week, you’ll now end up spending $36 a month, up from $24.

A mole mojo tamal.

Weekday sales, in the wake of the price increase, have dropped from about eight containers of tamales every day to about five or so, a representative for Evelia’s said during a phone interview.

The price hikes still put Evelia’s on the lower-end of the tamal price spectrum. Reyes Deli in South Slope asks $2.50 for their tamales. Yolanda’s street cart charges as little as $2.75 in Hamilton Heights, while City Tamale in Hunts Point commands $3.75. Or for something fancier, the nixtamalized masa at Factory Tamal on the Lower East Side translates to $5 tamales. Indeed, there’s something endearing about one of the city’s most reliable street carts almost apologizing for a 50 cent price hike in an Instagram post — all while fine dining spots charging $400 per person increase the cost of their menus by $50 with sometimes zero public announcement.

Evelia’s tamales, it’s worth pointing out, are pretty spectacular. When consumed warm, the corn flavor is apparent but never overpowering. The masa, coarse but nearly as soft as Cream of Wheat, serves as a neutral counterpoint to the powerfully distilled fillings. Cilantro chicken slaps you with its rampant grassiness and poultry tang. Pork with red salsa is more subtle, emitting a mild warmness. That epic mole tamal, in turn, contains a slick of sauce so rich it coats the tongue like fudge, emitting a bitter astringency and a chile burn that lasts for minutes after each bite.

A sweet raisin tamal.

The larger Oaxacan tamales, I found, flaunted a finer grind and sharper flavors than their smaller counterparts. The red mole version, wrapped in a banana leaf, sported a hefty slick of smoked jalapeno salsa that punched with a serious Scoville factor. A chicharron tamal, just the same, used the soft corn as a point of contrast to slippery, tender, gelatinous pork skin. And a bright pink raisin tamal tasted of mild corn and sugar — the ideal pairing for a hot cup of fragrant champurrado, a chocolate atole that glides across the tongue with only a touch less weight than good congee.

New York is quite lucky to have Evelia’s here in Corona. In addition to a second cart a few blocks north, Coyotzi also has a new brick and mortar location nearby in limited-service mode, with a full opening planned for later in February. In the meantime, I’m calling the tamales and atoles here a BUY.

— Additional reporting by Patty Diez

Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).

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