This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ugly Juanita's

Food for the "Drunkass"

If you're out on Beale St. this New Year's Eve and needing something to counter the "buzz" you're feeling, there's a place in W.C. Handy Park... err, Pepsi Pavilion that sells spicy food on the cheap. Ugly Juanita's, located on the corner of Beale St. and Rufus Thomas Blvd. (marked as Handy Circle on Google Maps), sells a tamale that will get your attention.




Ugly Juanita's chicken tamale isn't the typical kind that most are familiar with. Instead of everything being stuffed inside the cornmeal, the "stuffing" is on the outside. The toppings consist mostly of chili con carne with chicken (a small amount of it), cilantro (although I didn't see or taste it), salsa and grated cheese. The chili is very spicy and dominating, to the point that I almost forgot I was eating a tamale. Usually, tamales are so thick in cornmeal that I can hardly enjoy one, but Ugly Juanita's is the exception.

I may be in the minority, but I feel that Ugly Juanita's chicken tamale is pretty good for the price ($2). Because of the spiciness, the tamale could be strong enough to stir the senses of those who are "hammered." In fact, this tamale could be considered "Drunkass Food" (yep, I'm using someone else's term; if he's using "Food Find" in his blog, I will reciprocate). However, I'm not saying that eating tamales are the panacea for intoxication. If you're out celebrating this New Year's Eve, please be responsible and not drink and drive. Because of my love of partying, I will definitely take a cab home next Saturday night. But not before eating tamales at Ugly Juanita's. Happy New Year!

UPDATE: After a recent visit to the food truck Tamale Trolley where I had three delicious pork tamales, I returned to Ugly Juanita's. During that visit, I had the BBQ Pork Tamale. The tamale is stuffed with pork shoulder and topped with chili con carne, barbecue sauce and cheese, although my hastily-made tamale came without it. As expected, the tamale was spicy due to the chili and had the tanginess of barbecue, but I noticed something was lacking. The tamale had very little pork shoulder stuffed inside it, which in some ways wasn't surprising. One of the reasons why I'm not a big fan of tamales is that most of them are made with cornmeal (or masa) with hardly any stuffing, even when it's billed as a "______ (fill in the blank) tamale." To me, it's misleading because I'm not getting what I paid for. As it relates to Ugly Juanita's BBQ Pork Tamale, I liked it a lot despite not getting everything I wanted. If Ugly Juanita continues to sell tamales, it should market them as chili tamales with either chicken or pork. By doing that, the customer knows what he/she is getting and what to expect. Or it could replace the tamales with bowls of chili with cornmeal and meat. Anyway, that's my two cents about an otherwise decent tamale.

The Tacos are "OK"

When I decided to check out Ugly Juanita's, my intent was to evaluate its soft tacos. Many of my friends told me that the tacos weren't good, so I wanted to confirm this. I sampled all of the restaurant's offerings, which were chicken, pork and fish.
In both the chicken and pork tacos, they weren't as bad as my friends said. For both tacos, the meat was seasoned and the cilantro crema added flavor, but the salsa lacked spiciness. With cabbage and other components, both tacos were decent but far from the best.
Ugly Juanita's chicken tacoUgly Juanita's pork taco
Ugly Juanita's fish taco impressed me more, although I'm basing it on limited experience. In the few places were I had fish tacos (such as Cafe Ole and Flying Fish), I never had one that I liked. I didn't like the fish tacos because the taste was dry and bland. Ugly Juanita's version tasted better, for the cilantro crema and a sauce I couldn't identify (even though the menu says it's salsa) gave the taco a nice flavor.

(I'm not sure what type of fish is in the taco, but I'm guessing tilapia.)

Overall, the fish taco was the best among of the three that I had at Ugly Juanita's. As I said, I'm basing this on limited experience so I won't vouch for it. However it is good enough, to the point that I encourage others to try it.


After eating the tacos at Ugly Juanita's, my overall impression that the tacos are good, but far from the best. Even though the tacos are cheap ($2 a piece), there many places in Downtown Memphis (such as the Happy Mexican) that sell better tacos at similar prices. I'm not saying that my friends are entirely correct, but unless you need the immediacy of Beale Street, there are other places to get great tacos.

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LabelsBeale Street, Downtown, Mexican, Tacos, Tamales






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