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Tamale Spaceship Plans Pilsen Location with Kickstarter Campaign

By Chloe Riley | April 5, 2013 7:13am

PILSEN — The Tamale Spaceship is preparing for landing.

Come November, the food truck that typically hovers over downtown locations will be coming in for a permanent touchdown at 1735 W. 18th St.

For owners Manny Hernandez and Pepe Balanzar, it’s been 11 years of catching up to their dream.

“It’s been a ride, what can I say?” Hernandez said. “I was telling Pepe, we could write a book, there’s been so many stories and sacrifice.”

Hernandez, who has more than 20 years experience in the food service industry, met Pepe while working at Frontera Grill back in 2002.

After the restaurant he was working at closed in 2010, Hernandez got in touch with Balanzar, and after their food tested great at Chicago’s summer fests, the two men went in on the truck together.

The truck, as Manny puts it, features traditional dishes turned into tamales, served to you by a guy dressed like a Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler. It often can be found near Clinton and Lake streets and Madison Street and Wacker Drive.

Balanzar, who was the first to don the mask, said the Lucha Libre characters are like his age group’s version of Mexican Batman.

“Behind the mask is some other world,” Balanzar said smiling. “It’s different. Try it one time.”

In addition to the zaniness of the wrestler gimmick, Hernandez said it’s just that combination of “great food with a little bit of fun” that will draw in the Pilsen crowds.

“It not only travels well, it tastes well, and it has all the ingredients that you’d have in a plate anyway,” he said of the tamales.

And if the proof is in the mole, The Tamale Spaceship should be packing in the Pilsen-ites.

The truck now serves forth two of any tamale for $7.75, with names like the “No One’s Tamal de Pollo,” a chicken-barbacoa tamal with green peanut mole, and the “Suntuoso” Tamal de Puerco, a pork tamal with a fruity mole with grilled pineapple.

“Space Guacamole” is also available, as well as seasonal items like salads and soups.

Hernandez said the restaurant would first open for lunch, dinner and eventually brunch, with a chance of liquor being in the mix if the shop’s liquor license is approved. 

The Tamale Spaceship currently has a Kickstarter campaign with a May 16 deadline, and the owners hope to raise $34,000 to buy the restaurant’s kitchen equipment.

A $25 donation gets you lunch at the restaurant along with a photo with the “Masked Lunchador” once the place opens. And for $100, you get a tamale cooking class, complete with dinner.

The Pilsen neighborhood, with its shifting demographics and new storefronts, is an ideal spot for The Tamale Spaceship, Hernandez said.

“We’re going to bring the authenticity of Mexican food, but in a different type of atmosphere,” Hernandez said. “I think it will enhance us as a business and we will enhance the neighborhood.”

“I think it’s the perfect marriage,” he said.