HOUSTON – Tony Ortiz drove east of Downtown Houston from Pasadena to wait. The line moved and by the time it was his turn, he was ready.
"Five dozen," he said as he grabbed cash out of his wallet. As far as traditions go, Ortiz couldn't see his Thanksgiving dinner complete without one Houston staple: tamales from Alamo Tamales and Tacos on Navigation Boulevard.
"I've come here for at least 20 years," Ortiz said, as he sat to enjoy the tacos he purchased, along with his brown paper bag full of tamale gold.
The line moved steadily at the Houston landmark as customers made the annual pilgrimage.
"We've been coming here for how many years," asked Dexter Howard, as he and Gloria Chavez waited in line.
"Ten years plus," Chavez exclaimed.
A threshold decides the sales area from the kitchen, where a staff of a dozen worked like an army prepping and steaming thousands of tamales.
How many, exactly?
"Too much," laughed an employee, who'd lost count of how many the staff had prepared to fulfill the many orders pouring in for the Thanksgiving Holiday.
Tamales are a holiday tradition for many in Houston -- and this unassuming storefront with multicolored siding is location quite traditional, too, as far as routines go.
But a sign on the front door confirms the age-old adage, what many say about tradition: it changes.
The Navigation Boulevard location will shut its doors in January. Customers like Tony Ortiz will have to move to the Berry Road on the north side.
"That's the sad part. Every year I'm always posting pictures and photos of the lines here on Facebook and last year. We're going to have to start going to the original location, I
guess," Ortiz said.
Houstonians have quite a few local culinary treasures to highlight during the holiday season. On the south side, the checkout line backed well into the isles at Pyburns Farm Fresh Foods on Almeda Road. Aluminum trays stuffed with the store's iconic rice filled shopping carts.
While there are several varieties, most know it best by Pyburns rice.
"You know what? They make it with love, man," said Les Collins, who buys a pan every Thanksgiving.
"We make over 500 orders every Thanksgiving," said Luis Hernandez, the store's owner.
Aaron Daniel held his pan as he waited in line to check out. He also waxed poetically about his holiday spread: turkey, dressing, the fixins, cake to satisfy one's sweet tooth -- and the rice, of course.
“Most definitely the rice. It’ll probably go first,” he said with a chuckle.