Local Dish: Santa Barbara Author Pens “A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food”

Courtesy photo.

Richard Lambert, the local chef behind the beloved (and now gone) Santa Barbara Tamales To Go, has turned his culinary talents toward Mexico City’s colorful street food scene with a new book, A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food, that turns the spotlight on the world’s number one travel destination (New York Times).

Lambert lived in Mexico City for much of last year with his daughter Juliet, who owns a restaurant and catering business there, and says he “grabbed the opportunity to eat my way across the city, finding something new on every street. The options are endless when there are an estimated half million street food vendors in the city.”

Cleverly written, with tongue-in-cheek chapter titles like “Tacos are King of the Night” and “The Salsa Tells You Who is Cooking,” Lambert’s 37-page guide provides street food recommendations, descriptive photos, food and health safety tips, and on-the-street videoclips. The ebook also comes with a separate 40-page Spanish-English glossary of food terms, which is particularly useful, as Lambert describes Mexico’s pambazos, tlayudas, arrachera, costras and huitlacoche as “some of the best street foods you’ve probably never heard of, and will have fun discovering.”

Courtesy photo.

For the record, pambazos are a Torta (sandwich) that takes its name from the bread it is traditionally made with, pan basso. Lambert writes, “This peasant roll is chewy-tough and able to hold up well when it is split and fully dipped in guajillo chile sauce and briefly fried. The roll is then filled with potatoes, chorizo, refried beans, lettuce, crema, and garnished with queso fresco. This torta originated in Mexico City.”

He describes tlayudas as “large, thin crusted, fried or toasted tortilla covered with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and salsas. It is often called a Mexican pizza because it looks similar. The tlayuda originated in the state of Oaxaca.”

Arrachera is “thin sliced, grilled hanger steak with spice and cilantro marinade. (A) popular taco filling.” Costras are a “popular late night Mexico City street food item that is like a taco, but the ‘tortilla’ is made of cheese that is melted on a grill and then wrapped around the filling of your choice.”

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Huitlacoche, (pronounced “wheet-lah-KOH-cheh”) is “a fungus that invades growing corn kernels and changes them into soft blackish lumps,” writes Lambert. “In the United States, it is called corn smut or devil’s corn, and is treated as a disease. In México, however, it is prized as a culinary delicacy and is even referred to as a Mexican truffle by gourmet chefs. Huitlacoche is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, burritos, soups, as well as other dishes.”

If those descriptions don’t make you hungry, flipping through the ebook’s colorful photos certainly will.  A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food is $12.95, and may be ordered online here.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 12, 2017.


Tamales & Tequila at the Bacara

Courtesy Santa Barbara Tamales-To-Go.

Courtesy Santa Barbara Tamales-To-Go.

Want to learn how to make delicious tamales?

Expert tamale chef Richard Lambert of Santa Barbara Tamales to Go teaches an interactive class on how to make traditional tamales from 2-3 p.m. on Sunday, June 28 at the Bacara Resort & Spa (8301 Hollister Ave.).

In what’s sure to be a fun—and tasty—afternoon, Lambert teaches the techniques he uses to make his firm’s award-winning tamales and salsas.

Santa Barbara Tamales To Go Owner/Chef Richard Lambert will teach a tamale and tequila tasting class at the Bacara on Sunday, June 28. Courtesy photo.

Santa Barbara Tamales To Go Owner/Chef Richard Lambert will teach a tamale and tequila tasting class at the Bacara on Sunday, June 28. Courtesy photo.

Guests are served a variety of tamales and each tamale is paired with an expression of Tequila Alquimia, a gold medal cognac-like sipping tequila.

The enrollment fee is $30 per person and includes food, tequila, printed recipes and handout materials. Click here to purchase tickets.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on June 22, 2015.

Book introduces kids to idea of fire safety

“In truth, a match is more lethal than a gun in many ways,” said Richard Lambert, author and producer of Go For Safety, a new home fire safety program for children that includes a charmingly illustrated book, and companion CD.

Lambert, president of the Idea Bank, a Santa Barbara-based producer of training videos, CDs and DVDs, said he got the idea of using a gopher game show to teach fire safety (get it … Go For Safety) while having breakfast at the Good Earth Restaurant.

“It just sort of came to me,” he said. “One of the things we’re challenged by when you tell a story is that we are all sort of professional TV watchers in this country,” he said.

The story uses two competing teams of gophers: Gino, Tina and Vinnie Vanilla, who live under Brooklyn, and their challengers, Larry, Louise and Pralina LeClaire from the bayous of southern Louisiana. The distinct accents help children distinguish which characters are talking on the companion CD, which features songs — with music by local artist Mark Henderson and lyrics by Johnny Elkins — and special segments about matches and lighters; smoke alarms; escape plans; and advice like “crawl low under smoke” and “stop, drop and roll.”

Also available are a DVD and lesson plans, including sheet music and coloring activities, designed for use with children aged 7 to 9.

A Santa Barbara native (Lambert Road in Carpinteria was named for his great-great-grandfather), Lambert formed the Idea Bank while living in Arizona in 1983. He returned to Santa Barbara in 1989 as issues of fire safety were becoming better known and his clientele moved in that direction.

In addition to Go For Safety, which will be available at Amazon.com starting next week, Lambert has produced several videos/DVDs on juvenile fire setting, arson awareness and home fire safety, as well as public service announcements that are used by fire departments across the country. Up to now, the Idea Bank’s primary clientele has been public information officers and public safety professionals. This project is the company’s first foray into the consumer market, and Lambert is excited about it.

“Only 16 states in this country require fire safety education in their schools (and California is not one of them). This is a huge problem,” he said. “Smokey the Bear has been around for a long time. I’m trying to reach them with a little bit more energy and updated songs.

“There’s a lot of room at the top … in terms of things that can be done creatively.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on March 3, 2005.