Virginia Ramos, also known as the Tamale Lady, died Thursday at San Francisco General Hospital, a hospital spokesperson confirmed. Ramos was 65 and a resident of the Mission.
The cause of her death is unclear at this time.
Ramos earned cult celebrity status selling her tamales at popular watering holes in the Mission, especially Zeitgeist. She would roll her cart of tamales around, serving the sober, tipsy and dangerously inebriated alike.
In an interview with KQED, Ramos said she was born June 26, 1953, to a single mother and, according to the Chronicle, she was born in Jalisco, Mexico. She told KQED that she would sell tamales at a church she and her grandmother would attend. “This is when I learned about cooking tamales,” she said, noting that she learned by observing.
In 2013, the city barred her from selling her tamales at Zeitgeist, and she had since faded into the background as she assembled plans to open a permanent space on 16th Street. That was slated to open earlier this year, but was held up by the city’s permitting process.
Mission Local reported in 2014 that Ramos actually owned a four-unit property on 24th Street and had a difficult time maintaining the building. The Mission Economic Development Agency said she had been a victim of predatory lending.
“When I get the loan, all of this is going to be solved,” Ramos said in August 2014, in reference to the business loan she was seeking to open her tamale restaurant on 16th Street.
News spread quickly of her death on Friday, as San Francisco die-hards took to social media to mourn and show their support for Ramos.
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
For people of a certain era, Herb Caen represented San Francisco.
For newer San Franciscans, maybe it’s Jack Dorsey.
For my era of San Franciscans, nobody represented The City more than the Tamale Lady.
We love you Virginia. You will be sorely missed.
— (((BrokeAssStuart))) (@BrokeAssStuart) September 28, 2018
— Shotwells Bar – Beer (@Shotwellsbar) September 28, 2018