Marin’s new Mexican restaurant Tamal made it clear that it was not a restaurant for teenagers the minute a friend and I walked through the doors clad in shorts and tank tops. The look of bewilderment on the host’s face as he realized we wanted to eat dinner illustrated the more high-end atmosphere of the restaurant. That being said, while this initial awkward encounter may have created an uncomfortable few moments, Tamal did not disappoint.
Located in downtown Fairfax, Tamal offers a modern take on Mexican cuisine. With minimalistic decor—just a few Mexican textiles hanging on the white walls around the restaurant—Tamal provided an alternative to the typical bright lights and colors seen in Marin’s other Mexican restaurants.
Once past the initial patronization from the host, Tamal proved to be a great experience. Although the Mexican music playing throughout the restaurant was slightly too loud, making it hard to hear the person sitting directly across from you, it was still enjoyable and added to the ambiance of the place. The open windows looking out into the center of downtown Fairfax let the fresh air and sunlight stream into the restaurant, making this the perfect location for a cool spring evening.
The food was delicious as well. The starter course of house-made chips with guacamole and three salsas for $9.50 was a great way to begin the meal. The chips were thick and crunchy and tasted as if they had just left the oven. They paired well with the generous serving of guacamole, which was thick, creamy and flavorful. The three salsas did not disappoint, offering a variety of different flavors and levels of spice. The habanero salsa was flavorful with minimum spice, while the salsa oaxaquena supplied a spicier alternative with the same chunky consistency. The tomatillo green salsa with avocado was delicious as well, although it was a bit too watery to eat with the chips.
Although the main courses came to our table at different times, Tamal made up for this with their quick delivery and high quality. I ordered the tacos de carne asada, which proved to be a great choice. The meat was juicy, and the shredded lettuce and cabbage added a nice contrast with their crunchy texture. As with the guacamole and salsa, a strong taste of cilantro stood out and gave a fresh flavor to the tacos. The housemade tortillas tasted authentic, and their soft consistency paired ideally with the steak and lettuce.
While this meal was tasty, it is important to consider the price. Three small tacos cost $15, and a simple meal of two small bowls of rice and beans with three tortillas was $12. This is often not a great price range for teenagers, which is again why Tamal would be a much better option for families or adults who are willing to pay slightly higher prices for quality food.
The servers were very attentive, frequently checking in and refilling our waters. The wall to the kitchen was open to the seating area, offering a view of the food being cooked, which I always find to be a plus.
In terms of the room available, on a Saturday night around 6 p.m., it was about half full and we were immediately seated with a choice of locations: either a booth, a table or on stools at a bar. Although it is not ready yet, an outdoor space is being added at the back of the restaurant that is even expected to include a fire pit, making it a great location to eat on a nice spring or summer evening.
Tamal exceeded my expectations in regard to the quality of food and the atmosphere. While it is important to keep in mind that it is not necessarily a great restaurant for teenagers in terms of price or atmosphere, Tamal successfully offered a more modern take on Mexican cuisine, effectively combining high quality food with a simple and understated ambiance.