This San Antonio institution is home to the first family of Texas tamales.

Ruben's Drugstore Tamales, San Antonio
Credit: Jennifer Davick

Tamale lovers in San Antonio commit at least one hour of every Advent season to lining up at Ruben's Drugstore, a southside institution since 1952.

The Perez family's three-week Christmas push requires 15 to 18 cooks. The kitchen is packed with chatty Latina women. "Mas carne, por favor," a woman says, not even glancing up from her steady work. Temps swell as the ladies mix heaping bowls of yellow masa, bought from legendary tortilla factory B. Martinez Sons Co., spice the slow-cooked pork shoulder, and wash husks driven in from Mexico. Isabelle Chavez, who's worked at Ruben's for 27 years, quarterbacks the jovial crew, many of whom are aunts and sisters and cousins.

During the normal year, Ruben's owner Anita Perez, whose late husband Francisco Perez was the original owner's son, sells a steady batch of tamales. But the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve are when Ruben's becomes a husk-wrapping marathon.

"In one hour last year on December 23," Anita says, "we sold a thousand dozen." Ruben's is so important that a cook locks himself inside the back kitchen each night while 50 pots simmer from midnight to morning. "People think of our tamales as Christmas so there's a lot at stake," Anita says. "Plus, we don't want to burn the place down."

1807 Rigsby Avenue, 210/333-9529