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Where To Find Great Holiday Tamales In SoCal

Enjoy some tamales today.
(Stefan Lehner/Unsplash)
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Don't want to go through the complicated and exhausting process of making your own holiday tamales? Can't get hold of the lady your mom calls every year? Don't worry. Los Angeles has a wealth of tamalerias, from serviceable (let's skip those) to sublime. Here are just a few.

Pro Tip: Start planning ASAP. Most tamalerias cut off their bulk Christmas orders sometime between December 20 and December 22, sometimes much earlier.


Tamales Lillianas

A 24-year-old Los Angeles establishment that began life as a street cart selling tamales and champurrado, Tamales Lillianas is beloved for its proprietary tamal recipes, which have been passed down through generations of the Sontoyo familia. It now has two locations, one in Boyle Heights and one in East L.A. On Christmas Eve, you're likely to see long, pre-dawn lines at both locations as patrons wait for large orders of rajas con queso (poblano chiles with Oaxacan cheese) and chile rojo con carne (guajillo chile with meat) tamales. Their dulce varieties, which include pasitas con piña (pineapple), elote (sweet corn) and fresa (strawberry), are legendary for their moist, cake-like fluffiness. Plus, they're a great deal — $23 for a dozen tamales of any flavor. Order by December 19.

  • 4629 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East Los Angeles. 323-780-0989.
  • 3448 E. First St., Boyle Heights. 323-780-0829.
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Artesano Tamaleria

Artesano Tamaleria offers 10 varieties of tamales including chicken, pork and pibil (slow-cooked pork shoulder marinated in achiote). They also make vegetarian tamales filled with panela cheese in rojo sauce or refried pinto beans and chipotle peppers. If you want a Cal-Italian twist, get the tamal made with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. Artesano also makes great vegan tamales stuffed with cactus or with mushrooms and tomatoes. The sweet pineapple dessert tamal is worth trying. You can order online or in-person at the intimate cafe, located in downtown L.A.'s Santee Alley. Parking is available at a paid lot across the street or at meters. The shop is closed on Sundays. Order by December 22.

  • 819 Santee St., downtown L.A.

Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales

Before opening a Pacoima storefront, Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales earned a legion of ravenous fans at farmer's markets from Fullerton to Santa Clarita. The humble storefront, where you can eat at a few small tables, belies the nearby 10,000-square-foot factory, which churns out frozen tamales for customers to take home, by the dozen. Choose from beef, pork, chicken, pineapple, green chile or cheese and veggie. The award-winning tamales — still made using the Ortega family's recipes — are famous not only for their flavor but for their size. These hefty, burrito-sized tamales are perfect for XXL appetites. Order by December 18.

  • 13752 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima. 818-896-8789.

Tamaleria Rincon Sinaloense

Located off a busy street in Orange, Tamaleria Rincon Sinaloense makes fresh, fantastic tamales and serves them with thick, soul-warming champurrado (a Mexican chocolate and corn drink). On Sundays, they add menudo and posole to the menu. (Salsa costs extra.) Peek around the front counter and you'll see a team of cooks scooping fresh masa and spreading it onto corn husks that they fill with meat in red sauce (pork is the most popular), with chicken and potatoes in green sauce or with cheese. This tamaleria also makes two sweet varieties: a sweet elote (corn) tamal with cinnamon and bits of corn in the masa, or pineapple and raisins with brown sugar. If you want a bunch of tamales for the holidays, staffers advise you to order now — like as soon as you read this.

  • 421 N. Tustin St., Orange. 714-997-9391.

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Chichen Itza

Take your pick of tamales that are steamed or fried in banana leaves at this Yucatecan style stand in the Mercado la Paloma. At Chichen Itza, the chef's favorite is the vaporcito, a slender, flat tamal of golden masa filled with chicken stewed in achiote, a paste made from ground annatto seeds. Or you can request your vaporcito with a vegan filling of potato and carrot. The result is a tamal with a subtly sweet and smoky flavor that's topped with a thin, tart tomato sauce. Need a little more? The tamal colado is a plumper version of the vaporcito. The tamal horneado is robust with achiote-seasoned chicken, hard-cooked eggs, sliced tomatoes and epazote, and because it's baked, the masa has a crunchy bite. Call or come in person to place your holiday order. There's a paid parking lot with a limited number of spaces and a few unmetered spaces on the street. Order by December 10.

  • 3655 S. Grand Ave, C6. downtown L.A.

Aztek Tacos

You can judge a tamaleria based on how the corn masa smells when you open the door. Aztek Tacos scores high on that count. As soon as you walk in, you're hit with the warm, moist scent of corn and beans simmering on the stove. Expect rich, savory tamales packed with beef and pork in red sauce or chicken in tangy green sauce.Their tamales stand out thanks to the perfect balance of firm, moist masa and savory, stewed meats with a bite of heat at the end. You can order for the holidays by calling the shop. Located in a mall off Highway 79 South, it's a great stop before exploring the De Portola Wine Trail in Temecula. Order by December 18.

  • 43810 Butterfield Stage Rd., Ste 104, Temecula. 951-302-7501.

El Pollo Loco

If you need tamales in a pinch, El Pollo Loco gets the job done. During the winter, the fast-casual chain offers tamales in one flavor, chicken in red sauce. The masa is thick and each bite offers a hit of spicy red chiles. Plus, each tamal has only 210 calories and you can pick up a dozen for under $20 via the drive-through. El Pollo Loco also launched a trio of Holiday Chicken Tamale Bowls, all of which include at least one rojo chicken tamal, rice and pinto beans. El Pollo Loco's tamales are available at all locations until December 25.

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