Tomale Lady: Selling Tamales and making a difference

Violet Magazine Premiere issue Vol 1, Issue 1 Fall 2004...Written by Dave Carpenter

She is an icon among the late-night bar set, a godsend to the happy hour crowd that routinely pushes through dinner with little more than booze and bar nuts in their bellies. When Virginia arrives with her plastic Igloos full of warm tamales, a hint of roasted pork, chicken, and hot sauce in the air, people swarm to her. But it isn’t just the tamales they crave. Equal to her warm, homespun food is the tenderness and affection she proffers. She’ll tell a 300 pound bedraggled, drunk, and aggressive biker nudging his way through the crowd, “You don’t look good, honey. I think you drink too much tonight. You better slow down.” And like a puppy you see him go docile. He’ll likely give her a hug, have three chicken tamales, and turn in for the night, without a fight. You see it in nearly every conversation she has with her “people” as she prepares them tamales and verbally tends to their wounds.
“Virginia just talks to you so straight,” says one female bartender. “And you feel better. Oh, and her tamales are amazing.”
“The Tamale Lady,” says another longtime customer and friend, “keeps all the freaks alive with home cooking and a good deal. Pretty much that’s all we want, right, is a square deal in life...and by God she provides it...."

The Tamale Lady, underground hero in S.F. Fans to throw birthday bash for itinerant chef

Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer Saturday, June 28, 2003

San Francisco -- It was a beer past happy hour at Zeitgeist, a locus of Mission District cool, and more than 100 hipsters and Critical Massheads were on their feet cheering.

Standing at the back of the outdoor beer garden was the object of the crowd's affection: a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant known to late-nighters simply as the Tamale Lady.

Zeitgeist's jaded regulars don't get on their feet too often. Marveled one long-timer who goes by the name Jose X: "The last time that happened here was when some woman took off her top."

But they stood for Virginia Ramos, a.k.a. the Tamale Lady, one of those transcendent characters that San Francisco nurtures best.

Over the past decade, Ramos has become an icon of the city on the order of the fabled Brown twins. But while the prim identicals in matching outfits prowl Union Square, the underground hero Ramos roams the working-class environs of the Mission and the shirtless gay bars South of Market -- an itinerant chef who peddles her homemade feasts out of plastic coolers. (cont')
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