Meet Chicago’s Tamale Guy

Right when Chicago’s bar-goers want to feed their late-night cravings, the Tamale Guy makes his appearance. The distant call of “Tamales! Tamales!” and the sighting of the Tamale Guy’s red cooler filled with tamales has become something of a legend among certain Chicago neighborhoods. Forget food trucks or hot dog stands. The Tamale Guy is a genuine icon of Chicago nightlife, and in recent years, his status and his business has only improved with the help of his loyal following’s use of social media.

Who Is the Tamale Guy?

The Tamale Guy is Claudio Velez. With the help of his sister, Maria, he makes his pork, chicken and cheese tamales fresh every day, packs them up in his cooler, and makes his way through the hipster bars on the Near Northwest Side of Chicago. He drives to each neighborhood and, on foot, hits up the bars that either don’t have kitchens or have kitchens that close early. For hungry Chicagoans who have had a few drinks, he is a welcome sight, and they’re more than willing to pay the five dollars for a pack of six handmade, always-hot tamales. For bar owners, Claudio has helped them keep patrons from leaving the bar to find food elsewhere.

The Tamale Guy on Twitter and Yelp

The Tamale Guy is reliable – he will often make his usual rounds through bars in Chicago neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, the Ukrainian Village and Roscoe Village. But there is no telling where he will be at what time, and which routes he’s taking on any given night. Thank goodness for Twitter.

Just as food trucks have turned to Twitter to help their customers keep track of where they’ll be next, the Tamale Guy’s fans have taken it upon themselves to set up a Twitter account for Claudio that lets people know where he is. Twitter users can follow @tamaletracker to get updates on Tamale Guy sightings – which bar, which neighborhood and at what time. When they send a @reply to the account with a sighting, the message is retweeted to the Tamale Tracker’s followers. At the time of writing this, the Tamale Tracker has 4,082 followers.

On Yelp, the Tamale Guy boasts a four-and-a-half star rating, with 243 reviews and counting. The lengthy, detailed praises further attest Chicagoans’ devotion to Claudio and his tamales:

“The chances of running into the Tamale Guy are slightly higher than catching a chupacabra. However, I would imagine the joy that would come from actually catching the chupacabra is on par with the joy people feel when they realize the Tamale Guy has arrived in their bar. As a purveyor of masa based deliciousness, I highly recommend anyone who does see the Tamale Guy in their bar to try out his tamales at least once. They’re almost as good as his legend.”  – Mike W.

“I love this guy. He’s an entrepreneur in the greatest sense of the word … And man, the Tamale Guy works … All you have to do is think about him, and he shows up, right where you are. But you have to act quickly, because he’s gone just as quickly as he showed up. The tamales are great – the cheese are my favorites, and, with the long strip of chile down the center, pack a little kick. While the first time I fell in love with the Tamale Guy’s wares I was a bit inebriated, I’ve eaten them sober and they pass the test. Love it.”Michaelia F.

The Rise of the Tamale Guy

The Tamale Guy has been featured locally in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Red Eye; in Saveur, the Tamale Guy is listed right after Rick Bayless in a list of great Mexican eats in Chicago; on Serious Eats, he is included in “16 Tamales We Love in Chicago.”

While the mystique of the Tamale Guy certainly contributes to his growing popularity, it’s the reliability and consistency of his tamales that are the keys to his success. Twitter is simply a boost in exposure, and yet another sign of how social media is making everything, from the latest news to fresh tamales, more accessible to everyone.

This guest post was contributed by Jacqui MacKenzie. Jacqui is a writer for Straight North, a search marketing Chicago firm that offers professional services in SEO, social media and Web design. Jacqui writes for clients that range from providers of environmental monitoring equipment to specialists in web design for podiatrists. Check out the Straight North Blog, or follow @StraightNorth on Twitter!

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  • Hellraiser

    Get this “tweet” thing off my screen!