Bellingham is a city filled with unforgettable local restaurants, and New Mexico Tamale Company is a prime example. From flavor-packed handmade food to a warm and welcoming atmosphere – it’s no wonder this southwest-inspired eatery landed on Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat in 2020” list.
Born and raised in New Mexico (the hatch chile capital of the world), Owner Dora Ruiz found herself craving the flavors she grew up with, primarily good homemade tamales. When her spouse transferred to Washington, she was determined to rectify the absence of New Mexican cuisine.
“I thought one day I’m going to be transferred to a lush, green, rainy state and if they don’t have these flavors there I’m going to introduce the flavors of New Mexico,” she says.
Ruiz originally started selling tamales at local festivals, frequently selling out. With demand growing higher, she decided to open New Mexico Tamale Co. in 2017, operating out of a small location in Ferndale. The business quickly grew, with Ruiz ultimately moving the restaurant to a much larger location in Bellingham in May 2021.
While the new restaurant briefly shut down due to COVID-19 concerns, it quickly bounced back – opening up online ordering and moving towards 100% curbside service, still a very popular option today.
The biggest challenge in fact was not the pandemic setback but the expectations customers had when they first came in.
“The important factor about my food is that it’s not your traditional Mexican food,” Ruiz says. “I bring New Mexican flavors (a fusion similar to Tex-Mex) like red and green chiles, along with a lot of history.”
When customers would come in asking for tacos or carne asada, Ruiz would explain her traditional Southwest flavors to them, resulting in a deeper understanding and a lot of enjoyment.
Handmade, Vegan, Delicious
Growing up, Ruiz had a best friend who was vegan. Knowing the difficult time they had finding vegan-friendly options that didn’t lack flavor, Ruiz made sure New Mexico Tamale Co. offered plenty of vegan options.
Nowadays, 95% of the restaurant’s menu is vegan and 100% of items are gluten-free and lard-free. The lack of animal products doesn’t translate to a lack of flavor, New Mexico Tamale Co. has clinched a victory in the Bellingham Veg Fest two years running.
“There’s almost nothing we can’t transpose into a vegan option,” she says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, I would never want anyone to be deprived of my flavors.”
Despite the name, New Mexico Tamale Co. has even more to offer than award-winning tamales. Customer favorites include the Wet Supreme Burrito ($14.25), a flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of meat (or vegan substitute), with additional fillings of rice and beans, smothered with red/green sauce, drizzled with crema and queso fresco.
Ruiz’s personal favorite is the Stacked Enchilada ($14.25), a traditional New Mexican dish where enchiladas are stacked (instead of rolled) with a queso fresco and diced onion filling, smothered in green/red hatch chile sauce, with the option of a fried egg on top.
Fans of the menu can soon rejoice, as the restaurant’s popular tamales will soon be available in the frozen aisle at Haggen. Ruiz is also looking forward to releasing new Southwest dishes, with a new selection of cold beer from FrinGe Brewing available as of February 2022.
“It’s pretty easy, I truly believe they (the community) absolutely love to support local. Even though Bellingham is growing, it’s the hidden gems that people support.”
New Mexico Tamale Company, 4151 Meridian St., Ste. 106, Bellingham, 360.389.8841, nmtamale.com