Virginia Ramos, the Mission District’s beloved “Tamale Lady,” has died. She was 65.
Ramos, a resident of San Francisco, died on September 27, the San Francisco Medical Examiner confirmed on Friday. The medical examiner was not able to comment on the cause death.
Ramos was an immigrant from Mexico and a San Francisco landlord who rose to local fame selling home-made tamales and dishing out advice to the late night bar crowds in the Mission District and beyond. She earned enough to help send her seven children to college.
Her regular stomping grounds included Lucky 13, Molotov’s, Noc Noc and Zeitgeist — but was banned from there and other bars in 2013 following a crackdown by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, prompting then-Mission District Supervisor David Campos to step in.
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“She was a San Francisco institution, more than just the “Tamale Lady.”She was someone who was a mentor, a confidant and adviser to so many people,” said Campos. “Her love for people reflected itself in the food, in the tamales.”
Campos first spearheaded efforts to help Ramos establish a brick-and-mortar location for her tamale business at 2943 16th St., but faced some challenges. After terming out, Campos connected Ramos with the Mission Housing Development Corporation, which was funding the build out.
The restaurant was expected to open in April, but was held up in The City’s permitting process and faced some delays due to mandatory renovations.
Sam Moss, executive director of the Mission Housing Development Corporation, declined to comment on Ramos’ death — news of which spread quickly on social media Friday.
RIP aka Virginia aka Tamale Lady 😞 She was a great friend to all of us at Shotwells for more then 10 years.
— Shotwells Bar – Beer (@Shotwellsbar) September 28, 2018
I’m heart-broken Virginia Ramos – the Tamale Lady – has passed. Virginia was an institution in bars in the Mission, Castro & SOMA. We changed the law to legalize her business – selling tamales in bars – as part of our effort to allow home cooks to earn a living. RIP, Virginia.
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) September 28, 2018
“It took way too long unfortunately,” said current Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who worked as a legislative aide to Campos, of the years-long process of establishing Ramos’ restaurant.
Ronen said that she remembers Ramos as “such a part of my 20’s in San Francisco.”
“She had such an open mind and heart to all kinds of people — she was absolutely non-judgmental,” said Ronen. “She had so much love for the characters of San Francisco because she was one of them. She had strong opinions and lived a colorful, rough life herself, and survived by making her connections with tamales.”
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