Tamale Safari

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

Category: East Los Angeles

Tamales Liliana’s; Dry and Drizzled

I had high hopes for Tamales Liliana’s since they were one of last year’s contestants on NBC’s “Today in LA Tamale Contest” but these tamales typify everything I dislike about most tamales… too dry and “where’s the beef??!” Rosemary is a tad more generous than I so read on…

Rants, Raves, and Reviews

Rosemary
We haven’t been on a Safari for a couple of weeks, so I was really looking forward to hunting down our next great tamale. Liliana’s sounded good and Magda opted for the Caeser Chavez location because of the freeway proximity off the 710. So upon arrival, I was surprised by the size of the building and the expansive but full parking lot. This was no “fly by night” tamale stand, these people were tamale serious. And so were we.

Magda snagged a table out front -a good tactical move because the line waiting for an inside table was long. The service was good and friendly and we ordered the spectrum -the raja con queso, the pollo con veggies, the rojo con carne and pork.

Green Chicken Tamales eaten only after being drizzled with salsa

The Tamales came fairly quickly, but they were varying degrees of warmth…not hot and some were lukewarm. The paper wrappings looked a little funky & greasy but they were decent size. The tastiest was the Raja con Queso -The warm melted cheese was delicious and made up for the dry masa, which we found consistent in all the tamales. The chicken tamale was tasty as well, with veggies supplying the rich texture that the pork and beef tamales lacked. The good news though is that these people make a killer salsa. So the dry and crumbly texture of the masa was countered by copious amounts of salsa verde and everything tasted pretty good.

Ok, maybe not at the top of my tamale list, but I’d come back just for the hot sauce. I also ordered a half dozen to go (the family perk for my obsession) and they were steaming hot. Oh well.

Rosemary Rates

Masa: Dry, a bit crumbly.

Filling: The Meat was dry as well, stick with the cheese & green chili – I’m going to upgrade this category from 3 to 4 stars because if you throw enough salsa on them, they are pretty darn good.

Presentation: No imagination here but no real complaints….plastic dishes & rickety tables. Tamales are plain wrapped and stacked.

Location: Easy parking in the very crowded lot. Those parking guys are good!

Magda
When I arrived, the line to get into Tamales Liliana’s resembled the lines you see at the Apple store before an iPad launch. Fortunately this was only the line to eat inside the restaurant. There are a few tables outside the restaurant which more than suited our needs on this typically beautiful Southern California Sunday. I snagged one and waited for Rosemary to drive into the lot. They have valet parking and she joined the table immediately.

I’m just going to say it, these are the driest tamales I’ve had in ages. They are almost unedible. Fortunately, their excellent green and red salsas saved the day. After you drizzle some of this magic elixer on the tamales they had pretty good flavor. The masa is spiced properly but there was far too much of it and wow, so dry.

Chicken vegetable tamales.

We sampled chile cheese, chicken vegetable, beef, and green chile chicken tamales. Frankly only the chicken veggie were easy to distinguish. There was so little filling in these masa balls, the filling doesn’t really matter. They also have sweet tamales and “elote” which we passed on. Clearly the draw here must be the other items on the menu because the restaurant was packed. But I am mystified that the word “Tamales” is in the name of the restaurant. Maybe “Menudo Liliana’s” is a better and more truthful approach.

Magda Rates

Masa: Dry. Masa gets dry when tamales are overcooked so this also explains the bland filling. I only give this one star because it did taste good with the salsa. Cornmeal is hard to ruin completely.

Filling: Pretty flavorless and very little of it. I couldn’t tell if I was eating chicken, beef, or pork.

Presentation: The service was excellent. Paper plates and plastic forks were usable.
I am giving this 3.5 for the nice waiter.

Location: Great location right off the 710 or 60 freeways. Lots of valet parking and plentiful street parking on Sundays.

Tamales Liliana's Restaraunt

Tamales Liliana’s has two locations in East Los Angeles. The restaurant on Cesar Chavez is the original location and also houses their “tamale factory.” Tamales are reasonably priced at $1.50 each and can also be purchased by the dozen for $18.

Tamales Liliana’s
4629 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA.
and 3448 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA

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The hunt begins at La Indiana Tamales

The Tamale Safari has bagged it’s first catch at La Indiana Tamales in East L.A.

Here’s how it went:

Scene: Magda and Rosemary grabbing a booth in the dark corner of Jim’s Burgers to eat their Tamales.

Magda: She’s eyeing us now.
Rosemary: I know.
M: Like “Why do they need forks?” So let’s just stay cool until she leaves.
M: OK. She turned the corner.
R: If we’re doing a taste test… What did you get?
M: I got one of each.
R: OK. You’re smarter than I am.
M: I got one chicken, one beef, one Elote…
R: Oh boy!
M: …one, um, pork, and I then got a chile relleno because I wanted to try it.
R: OK, I’ll help you taste yours and then I’ll give you mine back.
Both: Laughter.
M: OK, coast is clear.
R: Now, are we recording?
M: Oh, I’ve been recording since we got here.
M: So, um
R: Take the chicken out?
M: OK, and I’ll take a beef? Oh wow, they’re labeled.
R: Yeah, chicken.
M: Wait, hold on let’s take a picture of that.
M: Oh no. This is pork. Carne de res? *
R: Well?
M: This is good, but you know, I don’t think they use lard… I think they use vegetable shortening.
M: They say pork is their specialty.
M: Look, they had these wrappers specially printed.
R: Look at the size of this thing!
M: It’s what… only a dollar forty?
R: Yes. Oh they stay together, nicely.
M: Here take some of the pork.
R: Absolutely.
M I didn’t know if you were a “Pork person.”
M: Lots of filling.
R: The masa is perfect. Light, but it’s firm.
M: It’s funny, because the weight of the package was so heavy that… yeah, the masa is really good. Next year, let’s get our masa here. **
R: It has a nice cohesive flavor.
M: I like that there’s lots of filling.
R: Look at the size of the chicken chunks.
M: Sometimes you just get nothing but masa. I hate that.
R: I know. This is nicely filled.
M: So now we know why people line up for these on christmas.
M: I like the red chile on the side.
R: Try this one. (Referring to green salsa)
M: Is it worth it to go back and buy a tub of that?
R: Except for the fact that I made a large basin of it.
M: You made green chile?
R: Yeah, we’ll never get through it.
R: Boy, it’s hard to start off with a 5-star tamale.
M: Well, I am pretty sure that we’ll have plenty of chances to be disappointed.

* Carne de Res is actually beef, not pork. Magda’s Spanish leaves much to be desired. Truthfully, when meat is mixed with red chile sauce, it all tastes the same.

** Magda and Rosemary make killer tamales every christmas.

La Indiana’s is a typical family-operated Mexican deli found in many areas on the east side of town. They specialize in tamales and masa and carry a few more essential mexican staples like tortillas, spices, mexican candy, and paletas but the main draw is the tamales. The selection includes, Pork, Beef, Chile & Cheese, Elote, Chicken, and sweet tamales.

The place is very small and all orders are take-out only. They also have an online order form where you may place your order at least a day ahead of time. In addition to tamales La Indiana’s also make chile rellenos and gorditas.

Prices range from $1.40 each to $8.40 per half-dozen and $16.50 per dozen.

La Indiana Tamales is located right off the Santa Ana Freeway on Indiana street.
La Indiana Tamales
1142 S. Indiana Street,
Los Angeles Ca 90023

M & R’s reviews and ratings:

Rosemary:
As Magda said, we wanted to start out big. And there we were, at Indiana’s Tamales….and what I would certainly refer to, based on reputation, ground zero for Los Angeles Tamales.

On a non-descript corner of East LA, this tamale store is friendly, accessible and certainly digital friendly, once I showed them my PayPal receipt on my iPhone for my online purchases, they produced a written receipt for me to sign and handed over my still warm tamales & Chile Rellenos.

And so we looked for a place to indulge. That part was tricky. We ventured across the street to Jim’s Burgers and Magda secured a booth in the back while I ordered a couple of drinks to legitimize our visit.

Once settled, we pulled out 2 wonderfully warm, fragrant but greasy packages of heaven. We tasted the Pork (their specialty) and the chicken tamales. They come neatly wrapped with a wax paper wrapping noting the flavor. Once unwrapped, we were impressed with the size of the tamale -definitely falling under the “hungry man” serving.

The masa was firm but tender, holding its shape nicely. The filling was distinguishable…I liken tamales to salad instead of soup: you want all your ingredients to be separate and visual…it enhances the flavor when the combined effect melts in your mouth. And these did. Large pieces of meat. Vegetables including peas, corn and peppers. This is why I live in LA. When you can find a perfect tamale on your first outing, you know your city is good.

Magda:
La Indiana definitely lived up to its reputation for excellent tamales. The balance between masa and filling was just about right. I could actually use a tad less masa, but the texture and flavor was so good I’ll let it slide.

Aside from the tamales we tasted onsite, I also tried their other fillings at home. All but the elote*** were excellent and I think my favorites were the Chile & Cheese (Pictured on the right.)

***Elote tamales seem to be an acquired taste. They are basically mounds of masa that have been combined with sweet corn kernels (I think.) Not my cup of tea…

Rosemary rates:

Masa:
Firm but tender, evenly steamed and holds its shape.

Filling:
Delicious. Fresh, perfectly cooked and spiced just right. A little greasy, but nothing to be afraid of.

Presentation
Nicely wrapped with flavor noted on wax paper.

Location
Parking issues on busy days: 3 lot spaces and the rest is street parking. I’ve heard stories of eager tamale eaters parking 10 blocks away on Christmas Eve.

Magda rates:

Masa: Nice texture and flavor. Some of the tamales had slightly too much masa for my tastes.

Filling: Good flavor overall for both red and green chile tamales. Not too spicy but they did have a slight kick. Loved the Chile & Cheese tamales.

Presentation:
Love the printed paper wrappers. The outside was a bit greasy, though.

Location:
Parking is terrible. They only have a small 3-car capacity lot and street parking is rough.

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