Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food, which is neck-and-neck with El Charro to claim the title of Tucson’s oldest restaurant (it started in 1922), used to bring out a free-standing sandwich board in late summer to announce that green corn tamales were on the menu. The board stayed up as long as sweet corn was being picked and chilies harvested – a period of not much longer than a month.
You still will find the board outside Lerua’s front door, but you can get a green corn tamale nearly any time of year. The cooks are perfectly happy using corn trucked up from farms in southern Mexico; and as for chilies, they can be gathered, roasted and frozen during the autumn harvest. While the process of freezing does compromise the muscle of a just-roasted pod and diminishes the appeal of, say, chilies rellenos, you don’t really want al dente chilies in your tamale.
So, even if they formally are out of season and are made using corn from far away, Lerua’s tamales, hot from the steamer, are forkworthy. Moist and lavish, their milky corn sweetness is laced with cords of chile that contribute green-vegetable salubrity to the earthy package. The tamales are just one item among a Sonora desert menu that also includes such local inventions as topopo salad, chimichangas, and cheese crisps. We like the salsa that comes with pre-meal chips; it has a powerful but not-too-hot chile taste that, like that of a great tomato, perches somewhere on the line between fruit and vegetable. Carne seca means dried beef, but Lerua’s is anything but dry. It oozes juice and spice at every bite. We were less impressed with a chile relleno, which was as big and blobby as a serving of lasagna, its capsicum character only a distant memory.