Tamale Safari

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

Category: Sweet

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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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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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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