Tamale Safari

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

Category: Los Angeles County (page 1 of 2)

California Dreamin’; California Tamales House

Let’s face it… I rarely go to the Valley or Valley adjacent. As far as I’m concerned those are the wilds of Los Angeles, but a good Tamale Safari is filled with adventure so off we went to The California Tamales House in North Hills. (And by hills they mean strip malls;) Continue reading

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Tamara’s Tamales; Posh Spice

Let’s face it, when hunting for the best tamales in Southern California, the tendency is to look to towards the Eastside of town. However Tamara’s Tamales proves you “Westsiders” still have hope. But don’t let their gorgeous plates from the 99 cent store fool you. These beauties come at premium (a.k.a. westside) prices. Vaya con Dios. Continue reading

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Tamales Alberto; take the money and run

We have been on a tamale drought for the last month or so but the moment I spotted Tamales Alberto, I knew the drought was over.

Rants, Raves and Reviews…

Rosemary

Upon arrival to Tamales Alberto, we immediately tried to pin down our location. Were we in Echo Park? Silverlake? Downtown? A couple dining inside gave away the answer. Decked out in Dodger shirts and accessories, these folks from Fresno were on their weekly pilgrimage to find the best Mexican food before heading over to Chavez Ravine to check in on the ball game. And in the shadow of the stadium, this place was a true home run.

On a quiet Sunday morning, parking was plentiful and free. Tamales Alberto has a colorful storefront on a dull section of Temple. The small restaurant serves 4 types of Tamales: Cheese and jalapeño, chicken & green sauce, pork in red sauce & chicken mole. We ordered one of each and I tried to get a little insurance by asking for some hot sauce.

Our Dodger friends assured us that the hot sauce was not necessary. And they were right! Spicy, rich flavorful and delicious tamales. Served warm & freshly steamed. And did I say cheap? So far, I would have to rate Alberto at the top of the tamale list!

Masa: rich, flavorful and delicious. They got it right.

Filling: spicy chunks of chicken & pork. Copious amounts of cheese. Hmmm.

Presentation: ok, not fancy but functional, plastic plates & utensils. A rickety screen door.

Location: stars – great pit stop on the way to a ball game, otherwise a little off the beaten track. But well worth it!

Magda

There is something about a tiny dive on a stretch of Temple in East Hollywood adjacent that reeks of tamale goodness. You would never think about stopping around here. (Unless you are a hipster Vegan and know of the place across the street which really seems out of place. I digress)

The first thing to know is that this place seems to be more of a takeout joint but there are 3 or 4 tables available in this completely unadorned space. But don’t let this prevent you from making the trip because These tamales are some of the best I’ve tasted. First of all these beauties are not the usual made-the-day-before-and-warmed-in-a-microwave variety. The make them fresh daily (or is it hourly) and you get yours straight out of the steamer.

The service is Spanish only so our Spanglish resulted in each of us getting 4 different tamales rather than our usual 4 to share. No worries. Each tamale was $1.30. Yeah, we were living large.

The Green Chile Chicken are the spiciest green chile tamales that I have ever eaten. So good and moist. The same can be said for the Chile Cheese which have large slices of poblano, tomato and mexican cheese. I also sampled the Red Chicken Mole which were good but not remarkable.

If I had to pick my top 3 tamale joints in LA, Tamales ALberto would be one of them. They close early so plan accordingly.

Masa: Corny, in a good way not greasy. Perfect.

Filling: The best Green Chile Cheese sauce filling ever.

Presentation: Plastic forks and styrofoam plates, meh.

Location: You would never think to stop there. Street and alley parking is OK though, for a quick bag of takeout tamales.

Tamales Alberto
1644 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Hours:
Weekdays 7am-7pm
Weekends 6am-2pm

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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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Mama’s Hot Tamales; a diamond in the rough

This was only our fourth stop so far on the Tamale Safari but we feel like we’ve already found our “Tamale Mecca.” The menu at Mama’s Hot Tamales easily exceeds the variety and quality of other places. Read on…

Lemon and Cheese sweet tamale

Rants, Raves, and Reviews:

Rosemary
Tamale heaven is closer than you think. Just ask Mama – or any of the charming servers over at Mama’s Hot Tamales. We tried every Tamale on the day’s menu. From the Peruvian Spinach & Mushroom (made with The Peruvian pepper Aji) to the classic Mexican Pork -they were all divine.

Both red and green salsas are full of flavor and spice

Fresh, firm, savory and a perfect blend of spices, these Tamales are made with love. We were even excited about the chips and salsa…hot and flavorful with the chips fresh and warm. And be sure to stay for dessert -what else but more Tamales -a wonderful treat of pineapple masa that reaffirmed my faith in the concept that if I only had one food to eat on a desert isle, send in the Tamales and make sure that Mama made them.

Magda
Mama’s Hot tamales is one of those places you would never discover unless you lived or worked nearby or like us, were on a mission to discover great tamales. Hopefully Rosemary has already convinced you that this place is a must for anyone who loves tamales.

Now the bad news…
Mama’s is a tiny restaurant with short business hours and sketchy parking. We parked on 8th street at hour-long meters which really didn’t give us time to savor everything. You need more than an hour to try several of these tamales and a cup of their delicious hot chocolate. The restaurant is located across the south side of Macarthur Park but I think parking might be more plentiful on the north side of the park. The best bet is to take the Wilshire bus lines which stop right at the park.

I always thought that I made the best tamales in the world, but I humbly submit a tip of the hat to Mama’s Hot Tamales.

Rosemary Rates

Masa: Rich, firm and savory. Nuff said.

Filling: Mama got it right -from traditional to creative, Mama’s fillings are tasty and varied.

Presentation: From the colorful fiesta style dishes to the festive decor, the corn husk classic fit right in.

Location: Not as bad as it seems, this bustling area of LA is easily accessible but best avoided on street sweeping Thursdays. A Sunday brunch would solve that problem!

Magda Rates

Masa: Very good. They don’t use lard and the texture is quite light. As usual I could use a bit less Masa but I am not complaining too much here.

Filling: The best! I loved the variety. Even the sweet tamales were good and I hate sweet tamales.

Presentation: Pretty standard corn husks on a plate. These tamales are also large and 2 barely fit on a plate.

Location: Very stressful parking situation. If you drive, you will be about a block away.Metered parking is only an hour and the meter maids are out in full-force.


Mama’s Hot Tamales was established as an economic development project in order to provide education and job skills to nearby residents. It is an apprentice-operated business and part of the effort to revitalize the area surrounding Macarthur Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Mama’s Hot Tamales
2122 West Seventh Street (a half a block west of Alvarado St., and directly across
the southern border of MacArthur Park)
Los Angeles, CA 90057. Tel. 213.487.7474
Open: 11 am – 3:30 pm seven days a week

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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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