Tamale Safari

Eating our way through every darn tamale in Southern California (and the world?)

Month: January 2012

Porto’s Bakery; I’ll have a tamale with that tiramisu

Today we dished it up Cuban style with a trek to Porto’s Bakery in Glendale, California.

M & R’s Rants, Raves, & Ratings

Rosemary

I guess it’s NOT always about the heat. At least when you are talking Tamales. Porto’s delivers a succulent, warm and “mashed potato” fuzzy Tamale that hits the spot without the spice. The Masa has a wonderful fluffy texture that melts nicely with the rich pork filling.

The hefty portion is savory, and definitely falls into the “comfort food” zone of pure pleasure. Go for the Tamale and stay for the dessert. And don’t be intimidated by the crowds. The staff is pleasant and efficient and as Magda noted, could teach the TSA a thing or two about processing long lines of people.

Magda
Portos’s Bakery is probably the last place you’d think of to get a tamale, but don’t be fooled by the racks of custard filled pastries, cakes and decadent desserts, they make a mean cuban tamale.

Cuban tamales are rolled mounds of masa piled with pulled pork and steamed in a cornhusk. It’s sort of like an inside out tamale. Ordinarily I don’t like tamales that are heavy on the masa but Porto’s flavors their masa to perfection. The texture of the masa is also light and airy and doesn’t leave you with that heavy filling. This is good because you will definitely want to try at least one of their desserts.

Two for two. Macaroons and coconut glazes.

We tried the coconut glaze balls (at 80 cents each how can you refuse?) I also had a side salad with raspberry dressing and a can of my favorite Peruvian Inka Kola.

Porto’s Bakery has 3 locations in Los Angeles county and they are huge establishements that are always crazy busy. Think of LAX with a more efficient crowd control system and you have a good idea of what Porto’s is like. The staff is always so well mannered and efficient despite the masses pressed against the display cases. None of the young staff there ever write down orders. How do they remember everything? I’d love to learn how they’re trained.

This was my third visit to Porto’s Bakery. Everything on the menu is a winner.

Rosemary Rates:

Masa: Rich, savory. I’m not even going to complain about the lack of spiciness.

Filling: The Cuban equivalent of Mac and Cheese. Perfect comfort food richness.

Presentation: Tied up in nicely in a cross length double wrapped corn husk.

Location: Easy parking at the Glendale location. Porto’s is loud, noisy and bustling with diners competing for a table. This is a 2 person job: one to order, the other to scout for a place to sit -and well worth the effort.

Pork Tamale revealed

Magda Rates:

Masa: Very tasty and flavored with the meat sauce. Moist, yet flakey.

Filling: Delicious pork filling. This is the only kind they sell and I could use a tiny bit more filling per tamale but it’s not a big gripe because they are so good.

Presentation: Each tamale is wrapped in doubled corn husks and tied neatly with string. This isn’t a restaurant so you’re stuck with plastic plates and forks.

Location: Southern California is a sprawl so be prepared for a longish drive if you do not live in the vicinity. There is plenty of free or nearly free city-run parking. Porto’s bakery is huge. All 3 locations are massive, well-run wonders so don’t be intimidated by the crowds. These people know how to serve you quickly.

Porto’s Bakery is located on three large sites in Burbank, Glendale, and Downey in Southern California. It is primarily a take-out bakery but they also serve sandwiches, and other savory dishes onsite. Seating is plentiful at all locations. Each site also includes a party planning department and they specialize in cakes for special occasions.

Porto’s Glendale is located at 3614 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA‎
See their website for other locations: portosbakery.com
(818) 846-9100‎

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Gloria’s Cafe, “The Stepford Wives” of tamales

One of my brilliant ideas for this blog was to record our impressions on an audio recorder as we tasted the tamales. At the time I never thought that I would actually leave the recorder behind at one of the sites. Yup, it happened, and of course we were at an establishment where, um, let’s just say, we weren’t thrilled with the food. Oh well…. I am not sure if the owners of Gloria’s actually listened to anything, (I am hoping that the batteries ran out) but if you ever find a recording on the internet of 2 women trashing “gringo-style” salsa and tamales, that would be us.

Without further ado, here is our assessment of the tamales at Gloria’s Cafe in West Los Angeles.

M & R’s Rants, Raves, & Ratings

Rosemary
I think we just found the “Stepford Wives” of the tamale world. Gloria’s Tamales looked great. While I prefer mine served with husk intact, these unwrapped babes were piping hot and drizzled with a colorful red sauce.

Gloria's Cafe Tamale Plate - Beef and Pork TamalesA quick dissection with a fork showed them to be rich with filling and tender but firm, holding their shape nicely. My mouth watered with expectation. But one bite and I knew that these tamales were meant to be bland.

Perhaps that explained the non-Hispanic crowd that filled the restaurant. Even the salsa was bland. No spice. No heat. All the ingredients were there. It was even hard to tell the flavors apart.

On a more interesting note, however, our server was quite gracious and explained in detail the difference between the Mexican style tamale and the El Salvador style: it’s all in the cooking and packaging. Mexican tamales are wrapped in corn husks and steamed; El Salvador tamales are boiled in banana leaves and tin foil.

Magda
I had never been to Gloria’s before, but the interior looked vaguely familiar. I think I might’ve picked up a take-out order there ages ago, but it’s hard to tell. The “Disneyesque-faux-Mexican” decor is pretty standard in places like this.

The restaurant was packed. This is usually a good sign, however not one single patron was of hispanic origin (or whatever they’re calling us nowadays.) Rosemary and I were called over to a table in the back of the restaurant so we waded through the sea of “gringos” to take our seats.

We were attended to right away with a plate of tortilla chips and salsa as they took our drink orders. Second bad sign… the salsa tasted like tomato soup. Rosemary asked the waiter if they had anything “better” than that. As the waiter gruffly answered “No, that is the best in the house,” Rosemary corrected herself and said, “hotter” not “better.” That calmed him down and he said “Hotter? oh yes we do.” (Note to self, never ask for “better” salsa.)

After we ordered, it took a long time to be served (If I had my recorder I could actually tell you how long it took.) I think they actually steam the tamales to order, which is a good thing. The tamales were hot and fresh. Unfortunately that is about all I can say for them. Both Mexican and Salvadoran tamales consisted of way too much masa and very little filling. The red sauce in both the Chicken and Beef tamales was very similar to the bad salsa that they serve there. There wasn’t even a hint of spice. The Chile/Cheese had a little more flavor brought out by thin slivers of Poblano. Unfortunately the overabundance of masa overwhelmed the filling.

The Salvadoran tamale was perhaps the most disappointing. The masa was very dense and I could’ve sworn it was made of potato or some type of tuber. We asked the waiter and he said that Salvadoran tamales are boiled rather than steamed which results in the dense texture. (Trying to picture this in my head. Boiled tamales???)

The other patrons (a.k.a. gringos) seemed very happy with their meals. Sadly I can’t say the same for mine and cannot recommend Gloria’s for tamales unless you have no clue what a good tamale is supposed to taste like and you like dipping your chips in tomato soup.

Rosemary Rates:

Masa: Good texture, held their shape nicely but bland.

Filling: Fresh and warm but lacked depth and richness

Presentation: Unwrapped but looked delicious with the drizzled red sauce and cheese.

Location: Bad parking, same dumpy strip mall, but conveniently close to Versailles – the Cuban restaurant where you can feel the heat! In case you missed it at Gloria’s.

Magda Rates:

Masa: Good texture, but way too much masa per tamale. The Salvadoran masa was dense and almost chewy.

Filling: Take a magnifying glass with you to find it. Very bland.

Presentation: Dinner plates looked great but I wish the tamales still had their husks on.

Location: The restaurant itself is nice, comfortable and clean, but the busy strip mall location is difficult to navigate and parking is bad. Try and find street parking but note that meters only last an hour on Venice.

Gloria’s cafe is sandwiched between a Metro PCS store and auto parts dealer in a busy, dusty, strip mall on Venice Boulevard on the west side of Los Angeles.

It’s a smallish restaurant serving a large variety of both Salvadoran and Mexican food, including both Mexican and Salvadoran tamales. It is a proper sit-down style restaurant with booths and tables but they also have take-out orders that can be picked up at the back of the restaurant. Tamales may be ordered as part of a “meal” with beans and rice or salad or à la carte.

Mexican Tamales are $4 each. Fillings include Chicken, Beef, Pork, or Chile & Cheese
Salvadoran tamales are $5 each. Fillings available are Pork, Chicken, and Elote.

Gloria’s Cafe
10227 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

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