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Lone Star Tamale Company

Written by Josh Baugh.

In the doorway of an unassuming building on Main Street in Lake Dallas, David Owen, a.k.a. “The Tamale Man,” wipes the perspiration from his freckled brow. The heat in the kitchen of Lone Star Tamale Co. pushes the thermometer to the triple digits—a combination of the sultry North Texas summer and the steam cooking the tamales that have lured Tex-Mex connoisseurs from as far away as Alaska.

David and his wife, Ruth Olive “R.O.” Owen, a pair of self-described soul mates, have been selling tamales from their storefront, halfway between City Hall and the local Ace Hardware store, since the winter of 2000. It all started in 1994 when R.O. entered her tamales in a contest at the State Fair of Texas. She took home a first-place ribbon and an inkling that her tamales might be worth selling.

At first, the Owens set aside one night each week to fill orders. R.O. and daughter Aubrey prepared the meat and masa in the kitchen and rolled the tamales on the dining-room table. David was in charge of making deliveries. Soon, the Owens couldn’t keep up with demand, and David said, “Enough.” They were either going to do it right or not do it at all, so they leased a shop on Main Street.

Notwithstanding several setbacks and false starts, there has been a steady line of customers ever since. They come from all over North Texas and beyond, taking the Owens’ tamales to church events and poker parties alike. Word of mouth has built a clientele so loyal that David and R.O. rarely have any tamales left at the end of the day. In fact, they’ve been known to sell out within an hour of opening.

David and R.O. cook the meat, mix the masa, and roll the tamales in cornhusks themselves, all in the confines of a tiny shop adorned with one of R.O.’s many photo collages (also blue-ribbon winners at the State Fair) and all things Texas, from cowboy-themed art to strings of chile-pepper lights.

Even during the summer months, when tamale sales typically lag (they’re traditionally eaten most around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays), the Owens can’t make enough. With Lone Star’s business and reputation continuing to grow, David and R.O. are considering expanding once again.

The Owens estimate that they’ve made more than 54,000 dozen—that’s 648,000—tamales since R.O. won that 1994 blue ribbon. In that time, they’ve tweaked the recipe to perfection. They sell only beef tamales, a combination of sirloin, chuck, round steak, tomatoes, and seasonings. The spicy smell lingers in the small shop, enticing customers as they enter.

I found myself drawn to that mouth-watering aroma for the first time in the fall of 2002. Having grown up in San Antonio, I was raised on some of the best Tex-Mex the state has to offer. One bite of a Lone Star tamale sent me reeling back toward memories of old San Antone. The Owens’ flavorful masa is never dry, and there’s just enough spice in the meat to give the tamales a bit of heat.

On Fridays and Saturdays—the only days Lone Star Tamale is open—the Owens greet customers with broad smiles and Southern charm. There are no menus, tables, or wait staff—only David and R.O. at the end of a short entryway, standing behind a small counter. The shop opens from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., unless the tamales sell out sooner. The couple recommends calling ahead to ensure your order can be filled.

You can buy tamales by the dozen ($6.50), either freshly steamed or frozen, and on Saturdays, you can also pick up homemade chicken tortilla soup, another manifestation of R.O.’s talent in the kitchen. (Available year round, the soup costs $2 for a single serving or $12 for a half-gallon.)

Michele Tyson, a food scientist who works in Dallas, has been a faithful customer ever since she tried the tamales at a church function a couple of years ago. Since then, she has shared dozens with coworkers and served them to friends and family. “I haven’t found any better,” she says, oohing over the tantalizing blend of seasonings and the quality of the masa and meat. “I love them.”

Sue Brockett, another regular, says she learned about Lone Star Tamales from her boyfriend, who tried them at a poker party. “They’re wonderful. There’s just not anything else like ’em,” she says. “We came down from Denton and got some, and we’ve been coming back ever since.”

Lone Star Tamale Co. is at 218 Main St. in Lake Dallas. From Dallas, drive north on I-35E to Lake Dallas, and take Exit 457A. Turn right on S. Denton Dr., and right on Main St. Hours: Fri-Sat 11-6, or earlier if tamales sell out. Write to Lone Star Tamale Co., Box 1142, Lake Dallas 75065; 940/497-2555.

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