Bring a bowl of warmth to your family this chilly holiday season with Tamale House East’s prized family recipe for tortilla soup.

By Sabrina Leboeuf, Photos courtesy of Tamale House East

Diane Valera

Tamale House has been a part of the Valera family and the Austin community since 1958, longer than many locals can remember and definitely longer than most current Austinites have called the city home. The first location was opened by Diane Valera’s parents at 100 Congress Ave., and other family members later opened their own branches that have since closed. Now the legacy continues with Tamale House East, owned and operated by Valera’s five children.

Valera and her daughter Carmen Valera lead the restaurant that’s been serving Austinites for more than 60 years. Together, they create new menu items to feed their repeat customers, as well as visitors from far-off places who find Tamale House East without the help of billboards or traditional advertising. Customers find their way to the restaurant’s famous migas, breakfast tacos, dinner plates, enchiladas and tamales by word-of-mouth.

When Austin starts to cool off in November, the Valeras bring their beloved tortilla soup back to the menu. Like the restaurant, the tortilla soup recipe has been with the family for years on end. For Diane Valera and Carmen Valera, the tortilla soup was just “chicken soup” growing up, and Carmen Valera fondly remembers eating it at her grandma’s house on cold days.

“We’re a big family,” Carmen Valera says. “During the holidays, one of the easiest things to do to feed a big family is to make—and it wouldn’t be too expensive to do that for the whole family—to make a big pot of soup.”



3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 medium white onion (half sliced, half diced)

4 garlic cloves

1 level tablespoon caldo de pollo chicken bouillon powder

4 dried cascabel chile peppers

2 tomatoes, diced

Chile paste to taste

Tortilla strips, fried (for garnish)

Avocado, sliced (for garnish)

Monterey Jack cheese, grated (for garnish


  1. Boil the chicken breasts, salt, black pepper, sliced onion, garlic cloves and chicken bouillon powder for about 45minutes. Once done, remove the chicken, shred it and set it aside. Save the broth.
  2. Boil the cascabel chile peppers in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes or until soft. Once soft, blend the deseeded peppers in 2 cups of the water they were boiled in, strain and set the chile pepper broth aside.
  3. In the saved chicken broth, add the shredded chicken, diced onion, diced tomatoes, chile pepper broth and chile paste to taste. Boil all these ingredients for about 20 minutes.
  4. Serve the tortilla soup in a bowl garnished with fried tortilla strips, sliced avocado and grated Monterey Jack cheese. For added cold-weather comfort, serve the soup with a side of Spanish rice.



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