The woman in front of me in line started talking to me as soon as I walked up. Her mom had just died — buried on Monday — and she didn’t want to cook tonight. She and her husband had driven across town, from “A” Mountain to Houghton and Irvington roads, to try YaMama’s Soul Food.
“My mom would’ve loved this place,” she told me on her way out.
YaMama’s, 10265 E. Irvington Road, is a rare glimpse of Southern comfort cooking in Tucson. The restaurant also happens to operate out of a convenience store.
Frank Montgomery co-owns YaMama’s 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 out houses in Tucson. “We’re go-getters,” Frank said.
The couple has raised seven kids together — “and half the neighborhood,” Frank said.
“Neighbors, cousins — they knew when it was dinnertime,” Lashell said.
Frank’s interest in real estate informed the location of the restaurant: “lots of foot traffic,” he said, while being less expensive than midtown rent and closer to their home in Corona del Tucson. “It was the opportunity to get a foot in without spending $400,000 for a building,” he said.
The convenience store is more comfortable than most. It has a dining section with surprisingly cozy seating and windows with views of the Rincons. You’ll spot YaMama’s menu, in the back right corner, as soon as you walk in, an inviting portal with specials offered by the number of meats on the plate: choose between ribs, pulled pork, barbecue chicken and hot links. Breaded chicken sandwiches are $2.59.
The menu is Southern comfort food: catfish, black eyed peas, greens, barbecue, fried okra, “rice and beans and cornbread,” Lashell said. Their potato salad has a mustard base. Their recipes have been passed down between generations, taught to Frank and Lashell in childhood kitchens.
“I learned from my mom, just handed down through generations, his mom and grandma,” Lashell said. “My mom would come down, we’d share recipes. And once we got together, we were just the cooks of the family. Sunday dinners 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, I admitted. (The movie came out when I was 14 months old.)
“They invite the whole family to Sunday dinners, chicken to catfish, cornbread, everything. If you see the movie, there’s always somebody in the family who thinks they can do the cornbread better. It’s a competition, it’s fun.”
YaMama’s Soul Food Restaurant
Location: 10265 E. Irvington Road
Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
For more information, check out their website or their Facebook page.
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