San Francisco Icon “the Tamale Lady” Dies at 65

Lead Photo: Photo by maogg/ E+
Photo by maogg/ E+
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Virginia Ramos, a beloved figure in San Francisco, has died. Ramos became a fixture in the city’s nightlife landscape after toting her cooler of tamales to SF’s bars, earning herself the nickname of “the Tamale Lady.” Ramos was 65; at the time of her death, her highly anticipating restaurant was preparing for its grand opening.

Born in Jalisco, Ramos came to San Fransisco in 1980. After realizing her job as a housekeeper alone wouldn’t put her children through school, she began showing up to as many as a dozen bars in South of Market and the Mission in a night. And though people first fell for her food, they also became enchanted with Ramos as a person. “I like to feed people and talk to the youngsters I see in bars who are broken by drugs,” she told The Chronicle in 2011. “I am like a mother to them, telling them over and over to take better care of themselves.”

For her 50th birthday, SF bands wrote 30-second songs in her honor, and she rang in the big occasion at Zeitgeist, a Mission bar that had close ties to Ramos.

While the Tamale Lady became iconic throughout the city, she had to stop selling her food in 2013 when the San Francisco Environmental Health Department told the bars where she frequently did business that they’d be putting themselves at risk if they continued to allow an unauthorized food vendor on their premises. At that time, Ramos launched an IndieGogo campaign and raised $20,000 to get her restaurant started. This year, the business was almost ready to launch.

Ramos’ daughters will hold a vigil on Tuesday, October 9. They have also started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000. “The vigil will be from 4 to 7 p.m. with the rosary at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 9 at Duggan’s on 17th street,” the page reads. “The funeral service will be at Mission Dolores Church Wednesday, October 10 at 11 a.m.” Learn more here.