A Few Of LA's Best Vegan Tamales

Fresh tamales. (Tim Sackton/Flickr Creative Commons)

For eons, tamales came standard issue — stuffed with pork, poultry or, occasionally, pineapple. Now, we're blessed with vegan and plant-based tamales in endless varieties, both savory and sweet. (It's part of a larger trend featuring vegan ceviche, vegan tacos and other vegan versions of Mexican dishes.) The masa is moist and fluffy (Dora Stone recommends using olive oil, refined coconut oil or pumpkin puree instead of lard) and the fillings typically involve jackfruit, nopales or a blend of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The results are hearty tamales without any animal products.

Whether you want a couple for yourself or you need to feed a holiday table of hungry relatives, here's where to find a few of the best vegan tamales in Los Angeles.

Chipotle, bean and cactus tamales with a watermelon agua fresca, at Artesano Tamaleria in DTLA. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Artesano Tamaleria

Artesano Tamaleria, in a renovated building in DTLA's Fashion District, is easy to miss. If the minimalist, gray and white decor makes you brace for overpriced, under-flavored tamales, think again. The gluten and lard-free masa is just the right consistency — not too thin, not too thick — and it's generously stuffed with the housemade fillings. Vegan varieties include mushroom, tomato and onion, and cactus. Individual tamales costs $3.25 or you can get a combo plate with two tamales and an agua fresca for $7.50. Place large orders online or by calling ahead. Parking is available at a paid lot across the street or at meters. Closed Sundays.
819 Santee St., downtown L.A. 213-947-3140.

A tamal at Gracias Madre. (Mary Castillo for LAist)

Gracias Madre

At this upscale, plant-based Mexican concept from the Cafe Gratitude team, chef Alan Sanz offers a savory tamal of jackfruit, purslane and green sauce. It's served with a side of pico de gallo and an escabeche salad that offers a bright contrast to the earthy filling. It's satisfying without requiring you to loosen your belt. Gracias Madre also makes a sweet guava and cinnamon tamal, served with cashew coconut whipped cream, for the winter holidays. You can order both online at $48 for a dozen. Orders must be placed by Dec. 22 and picked up by 2 p.m. on Dec. 24.
8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. 323-978-2170.
1617 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach. 949-386-8100.

La Vegana Mexicana

Owned and operated by Loreta Ruiz with her son and daughter, La Vegana Mexicana translates traditional Mexican recipes into deliciosio vegan, gluten-free and soy-free tamales. After conquering local farmer's markets and pop-ups, the Ruiz family opened a shop at the 4th Street Market in downtown Santa Ana. Their best seller is the black bean and mole tamal but the family favorite is the one filled with nopales and salsa verde, which busts through the white corn masa. You can also choose newer flavors such as mushrooms and guajillo sauce in blue corn masa or "cheese" and jalapeno. For fall 2019, the Ruiz family has added a couple of seasonal options. El Agradecido (The Thankful One) features Mexican squash, corn, poblano and tomato sauce while a sweet tamal is filled with spiced pumpkin and pepitas. For large orders, visit their website or call. Closed Mondays.
201 E. 4th St., Santa Ana. 949-988-4268.

Oasis Vegetarian Café

Oasis Vegetarian Café opened in the 1960s as a college-operated veggie snack shack and the Fernandez family bought it in 1996. Located next to a natural foods market, its menu has evolved to focus on fresh, plant-based cuisine. Under Classics, you'll find a tamal made of organic corn masa and seasonal, non-GMO and (when possible) organic vegetables. For fall, they offer a tamal where nopales are mixed in with the masa and served with tomato salsa and a super tangy vegan cream. We recommend a side of sweet fried plantains, perfectly crisp along the edges, which you should definitely dip in salsa and cream.
11550 Pierce St., Riverside. 951-688-5423.

Mama's International Tamales

To taste Mama's International Tamales, you'll need to follow them to one of the pop-ups and vegan markets where they appear or brave the parking situation in Westlake/MacArthur Park. If you do, you'll be rewarded with warm, flavorful tamales that have great texture. At their colorful brick-and-mortar shop, Mama's offers six kinds of vegan tamales including "cheesey" jalapeno made with black beans loroco and chipilin; mole with cactus and potato; jackfruit verde; jackfruit rojo and sweet corn. On the road, they often mix it up and experiment with new varieties like vegan chorizo con papas (with chorizo from Minneapolis-based Herbivorous Butcher) and a jackfruit enchilada tamal with salsa verde and potatoes.
2124 7th St., Westlake. 213-487-7474.