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San Francisco’s Tamale Lady Has Died

Friends are mourning Virginia Ramos, a staple of Mission street food

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A Clarion Alley mural depicted the Tamale Lady, Virginia Ramos, in 2014
Jay Galvin/Flickr

Virginia Ramos, known to her many beloved customers as the Tamale Lady, has died. The roaming tamales vendor who visited Mission District bars like Zeitgeist, Lucky 13, and Shotwell’s with her rolling tamales cooler was 65 years old.

The San Francisco Examiner reported Ramos’ passing, though the Office of the San Francisco Medical Examiner was not able to confirm Ramos’ death to Eater SF.

A fixture for her homemade food, Ramos had long hoped to open a standalone operation at 2943 16th Street. For the project, she’d raised nearly $20,000 on IndieGogo in 2013 with the help of then Supervisor David Campos.

“She was a San Francisco institution,” remembers Campos. “She was a mentor, advisor and friend to so many. Her love of people manifested itself through her delicious tamales.”

According to an owner of Shotwell’s bar, Ramos had been ill for weeks, unable to make and deliver tamales as usual. She was reportedly admitted to San Francisco General Hospital, where she died.

Ramos emigrated from San Jalisco, Mexico to San Francisco in the 1980s, where she raised seven children. “I don’t know you, but I love you, honey” was her mantra — often worn on a t-shirt. They were words Ramos reportedly lived by.

”She was an absolute staple [at the bars],” recalls Molotov’s owner and Lucky 13 bar manager Martin Craenkle. “I had this motorcycle wreck 14 or 15 years ago — she went to Mexico and brought back lotion for my hands, all kinds of medications from Mexico she thought would help me recover. She was a sweetheart.”