Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Pilar’s Tamales celebrates family heritage with tamales, pupusas

ANN ARBOR , MI — For Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers, the owner and chef of Pilar’s Tamales, creating good food is as much about love as it is about ingredients.

Pilar’s Tamales, 2261 W. Liberty Road in Ann Arbor, specializes in Salvadoran tamales and pupusas, among other Central American dishes.

“The food is food from my homeland,” Nolasco-Rivers said.

Nolasco-Rivers and her family first came to the United States in the 1980s to escape a civil war in El Salvador, changing their birth names to false ones to protect themselves. Nolasco-Rivers was just 9 years old at the time.

The restaurant is named after her aunt, who still goes by her refugee name, Pilar.

“I felt it would be really a great way to honor not only her as a woman and leader in our family, but also a way of remembering the story and how we all got there,” Nolasco-Rivers said. “…It reminds me … of our lineage of our family, how we got here. And also, Pilar means a pillar, so the pillars of strength is how I look at it.”

Pilar’s Tamales serves a variety of the masa-based dish, with filling options like chicken, chicken and cheese, pulled pork, black bean and cheese, and organic tempeh. The pupusas have many of the same flavors available.

“Tamales vary from country to country, from region to region,” Nolasco-Rivers said. “There are hundreds of different styles of tamales.”

Central American tamales, such as those served at Pilar’s Tamales, tend to be larger, with a flavorful corn masa dough. The dough for her tamales is “butter and just soft and tender,” Nolasco-Rivers said.

Pilar’s Tamales also serves fried plantains, refried black beans and a variety of drinks, including horchata and hibiscus tea.

“The creation of wonderful food is not only the ingredients but the love that you put into it. I always tell my children: ‘Don’t just stir something, pray over it, sing to it,’” Nolasco-Rivers said. “Put your wonderful love and energy into it and that’s going to come through, and I think that’s really the key of any cooking.”

Pilar’s Tamales, 2261 W. Liberty Road in Ann Arbor, is open from noon to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday and from noon to 5 pm on Saturday. Find the restaurant online, on social media or by phone at 734-929-4161.


Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Try authentic Cuban food at Ypsilanti’s Latin American Cuban Cuisine

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Light, fluffy donuts are the specialty at DJ’s Bakery in Ann Arbor

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Try everything from brats to tots at Ypsilanti’s The Wurst Bar

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Curry On offers Indian-American fusion in Ann Arbor

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Ypsi Boxcar, Aperol Spritz on cocktail menu at Ypsilanti’s Mash

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Plate Sushi and Chicken served up bento boxes, sushi rolls

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: From sweet to savory, Crepe Nation serves up variety of options

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Ricewood keeps barbeque simple with salt and pepper rub, Asian-style sides

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Familiar flavors find new life at Matty J’s Bakery and Cafe in Saline

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Cooking to order, dry brine is secret to fried chicken success at Ma Lou’s

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: TeaHaus serves up scones, macarons at Full English Tea

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Apple pie, sausage stuffing accent Eat’s ‘Reheat and Eat’ Thanksgiving takeaway menu

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Mahi-mahi, Korean tacos among the specials at Oscar’s Sports & Grill

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Beet burgers, Indian-inspired grain bowls help you eat well at Hutkay Fusion

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Giant burritos, nachos on the menu at Ypsilanti’s STUFD

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Peppers, pumpkin spice kick up classic French recipes at Ellen’s Fine Goods

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Belly-busting Bomber Restaurant meal has 3 pounds of potatoes, 10 slices of bacon

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Golden falafel, ‘shawafel’ sandwich among dishes at Haifa Falafel

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Taste Michigan honey, apples in meads, ciders at Bløm Meadworks

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: A Taste of Soul by Biggie’s serves up ‘wholesome’ soul food

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Franky G’s Jamaican Restaurant serves up authentic jerk chicken, oxtail

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Family recipe guides Nick’s Original House of Pancakes’ from-scratch meals

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Cosa Sabrosa in Ann Arbor offers unique birria tacos

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Ypsilanti’s Crazy Crab specializes in Louisiana-style crab boil

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Bon Appetit Cuisine brings West African flavors to Ypsilanti

Local Eats: Le Bon Macaron is Ann Arbor’s very own Parisian cafe

Local Eats: Ann Arbor’s 327 Braun Court pivots to Neapolitan pizza, novelty ice cream

Local Eats: Blimpy Burger has been slinging award-winning patties since 1953

Local Eats: Ginger Deli returns to Ann Arbor’s Liberty Street with pho and banh mi

Local Eats: Silvio’s Trattoria e Pizzeria offers authentic, organic Italian cuisine

Local Eats: Ann Arbor’s Juicy Kitchen offers fresh, custom take on brunch and to-go treats

Local Eats: Loomi Cafe offers eclectic menu in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown

Local Eats: Alpha Koney Island reborn as Alpha Diner in Ann Arbor area

Local Eats: Moon-Sky’s cheesesteak truck slings simple, savory sandwiches

Local Eats: Metzger’s German restaurant has survived depressions, wars and a pandemic

Local Eats: Ann Arbor’s Jagged Fork features breakfast and boozy brunches

Local Eats: Jim Brady’s adds ‘show-stopping’ apps, new pastas, salads at Ann Arbor restaurant

Local Eats: Chelsea Burger brings fast casual concept to historic downtown space

Local Eats: Frank’s Place keeps family pizza tradition alive in Manchester

Local Eats: Smokehouse 52 serving “comfort food” during COVID in Saline, Chelsea

Local Eats: Chelsea’s newest restaurant is burger joint meets sushi bar and more

Local Eats: LA’s ‘Bao Boys’ bring steamed-bun sliders to Ann Arbor via food truck

Local Eats: Gora’s Grill continues vegetarian tradition in Ypsilanti fast-casual space

Local Eats: Childhood friends, EMU alums open Halal burger joint in Ypsi

Local Eats: Ann Arbor’s Earthen Jar pivots from buffet style to Thali feast on a plate

Local Eats: Sip a cocktail or try steak on toast at Raven’s Club in Ann Arbor

Local Eats: Try a taste of authentic Turkish cuisine at Ann Arbor’s Ayse’s Cafe

Local Eats: Miss Kim serves a taste of Korean zing in Ann Arbor

Local Eats: Gabriel’s Cheese Steak Hoagies has been serving sandwiches for 60 years

Local Eats: Taco Tuesday, margaritas keep Maiz Mexican Cantina lively in Ypsilanti

Local Eats: Old Town Tavern has served downtown Ann Arbor for nearly 50 years

Local Eats: Jamaican Jerk Pit serves a taste of the Caribbean in downtown Ann Arbor

Local Eats: Relish Red Hawk’s comfort food in Ann Arbor

Comments are closed.