What kind of a San Francisco is one without The Tamale Lady? Last Friday, the city was distraught over the terrible news that our dear lady of the tamal, Virginia Ramos, has left us at the far-too-young age of 65. She was a magical and mythical figure, who would appear like an angel at the bar or beer bust where you were most likely drinking far too much, and probably hungry. You’d turn, and suddenly there she was, usually with her beanie and always with her little cart and coolers in tow. You’d see a flurry of happy activity around her, with a “How you doin’, honey?” as she’d dip into her cooler and produce a warm tamal—you’d order two if you were smart—pour some salsa from her plastic dispenser, hand you a paper towel and fork, and give you a beaming smile and a hug.
She fed us all like we were her children. Granted, we were her drunk and disorderly children, but she loved us. She always knew when we needed her most.
For me, it was often at the end of the Sunday beer bust at The Eagle. She’d laugh at me hanging out in a sea of gay men and chaps. One time, I got smart and asked for her mobile number. I used to host a biweekly happy hour (a very blurry one) at Vertigo on Polk in the early aughts, and told her we’d have many patrons in need of her divine sustenance at the end of the party. It felt extra-magic to be able to summon her like that. Man, did everyone lose their mind when she would show up with her cart. TA-MAL-ES!
Tamales are already so ridiculously labor-intensive to make, but could you imagine schlepping around a cart and coolers and salsa and paper towels and forks and feeding a bunch of drunks? That is a rare human. Virginia was exquisitely rare.
It breaks my heart that she was so close to opening her brick-and-mortar location in the Mission, soooo close. The project was beleaguered with delays and issues, but it was heartening to see so many people rally around her and try to help when she got booted from selling her tamales at Zeitgeist (and other bars around town) when the city deemed her enterprise a violation of city health codes (a special shout-out to Nate Allbee and David Campos for spearheading the initial location search). Oh, the irony about the recent bill Governor Brown just signed into law that will help allow Californians to prepare and sell food from their home kitchens.
There will be a vigil in her honor on Tuesday October 9th at Duggan’s Funeral Service (3434 17th St.) from 4pm-7pm, with a rosary at 7pm. The funeral will be Wednesday October 10th at 11am at Mission Dolores Church. According to a tweet from her account, presumably a family member, she had heart trouble. Yeah, it was just too big.
Virginia, San Francisco is ever-grateful for all the love and care you took to feed us, love us, worry about us, and make us so proud to have the one and only Tamale Lady to claim as our own. You made our city that much cooler. (And delicious.) You will be sorely missed—you were one of those mythic and beloved SF characters who is irreplaceable and will never be forgotten. Condolences to her family and all her friends. Rest in peace.
The wonderful Tamale Lady (Virginia Ramos). Photo via Twitter, source unknown.