The woman in front of me in line started talking to me as soon as I stepped up. Her mother just passed away – she was buried on Monday – and she didn’t want to cook tonight. She and her husband traveled across town, from Mountain A to Houghton and Irvington Roads, to try YaMama’s soul food.
“My mom would love this place,” she told me on her way out.
YaMama’s, 10265 E. Irvington Road, is a rare glimpse into Southern comfort cooking in Tucson. And the restaurant happens to operate out of a convenience store.
Frank Montgomery co-owns YaMama with his wife, Lashell Lamay. In addition to smoking all the meats for the restaurant in his backyard, he also runs an auto body shop and buys, renovates, and sells or rents homes in Tucson. “We’re pioneers,” said Frank.
The couple raised seven children together — “and half the neighborhood,” Frank said.
“The neighbors and the cousins—they knew when it was time for dinner,” said Laschel.
Frank’s interest in real estate led him to locate the restaurant: “Lots of foot traffic,” he said, while it’s less expensive to rent than downtown and closer to their home in Corona del Tucson. “It was an opportunity to get a foothold without spending $400,000 to build a building,” he said.
The store is more convenient than others. It has a dining section with surprisingly comfortable seating and windows looking out onto the Rincons. YaMama’s menu, in the back right corner, as soon as you enter, you’ll discover an attractive portal with specials offered by the number of meats on the plate: choose between ribs, pulled pork, roast chicken and hot links. Breaded chicken sandwiches $2.59.
The menu is Southern comfort food: catfish, black-eyed peas, greens, barbecue, fried okra, “rice and beans and cornbread,” LaShel said. Potato salad has a base of mustard. Their recipes have been passed down through the generations, taught to Frank and Lashel in the kitchens of childhood.
“I learned it from my mother, which I inherited through the generations, from his mother and his grandmother,” said Lashel. “My mom would come over, we’d share recipes. And once we met, we were just the cooks for the family. Sunday dinner and all that.”
When I asked if any recipe had a special story or family connection, Frank said, “All of them.”
Have you seen Soul Food, they asked? No, she admitted. (The movie came out when I was 14 months old.)
“They invite the whole family to Sunday dinner, chicken to catfish, cornbread, everything. If you watch the movie, there’s always someone in the family who thinks they can do better cornbread. It’s competitive, it’s fun.”
YaMama’s Soul Food Restaurant
Location: 10265 E. Irvington Rd
Hours of Operation: Noon to 8pm from Wednesday to Saturday, from noon to 4pm on Sunday
For more information, check out their website or their Facebook page.
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