Eating tamales during the holidays is a time-honored tradition. But the reality is, in LA, you can find tremendous versions all year-round. From Central and South American varieties like the nacatamal to the banana leaf-wrapped styles of Veracruz and Oaxaca, here are our 13 favorite spots for tamales in Los Angeles.
Guelaguetza is an LA institution, and home to some of the best mole you’ll find in the entire city. So when it comes to ordering tamales, the black mole chicken tamale should always be your first choice. At $9, it’s definitely on the pricier side, but it’s also the size of Pop Warner football and can easily feed two adults. The spicy tamal de rajas (chicken with jalapenos and tomatoes) is also a must-order.
Though Tamales Alberto was established in its current Historic Filipinotown location in 1997, their tremendous tamales date back to the 1960s, when Alberto Meija was selling them as a street vendor and then later out of the back of a local bakery. The tamales themselves are still made from an old family recipe, and are dense-yet-juicy blocks of perfection. Our favorite is probably the cheese and jalapeno, but both the chicken in salsa verde and pork with red sauce are must-orders as well. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available.
Tamales Elena Y Antojitos is one of our favorite new restaurants of 2020 and chef Maria Elena Lorenzo’s Guerrero-style tamales are a huge reason why. Wrapped in banana leaves, we absolutely love the savory chicken in green sauce and pork in red sauce, but don’t miss out on their sweet varieties, either. Both the strawberry and brown sugar cane tamales are excellent.
Located in Pacoima, this award-winning shop (they’ve won top honors at the LA and Indio tamale festivals) is one of the most popular tamale brands in town. But despite that - and its massive, 10,000 square-foot factory - Me Gusta Gourmet is still very much a family-run, roadside tamale shop. Its takeout window is quick and easy, particularly ideal during a pandemic. As for the tamales themselves, expect traditional varieties like beef, pork, chicken, pineapple, and cheese, and expect them all to be delicious.
This Nicaraguan restaurant in Pico-Union is home to the nacatamal, a giant pork, tomato, and potato-filled tamale that comes so neatly wrapped in boiled banana leaves that it wouldn’t be out of place underneath a Christmas tree. Let us rephrase that - we’d be completely fine if one ended up under ours, because the combination of the spicy pork and the pop of salty acidity from the green olives makes this one our favorite versions in town.
When you hit the stretch of North Hollywood that’s basically just semi-trucks and loading docks, it means you’re close to Mi Ranchito Veracruz. This tiny Mexican restaurant has an excellent menu stacked with burritos and chilaquiles, but everybody’s really here for the tamales. They’re served Veracruz-style (prepared with banana tree and hoja santa leaves instead of corn husks), are perfectly cooked, and topped with a slightly sweet mole negro.
Open since 1952, it doesn’t get more classic than La Mascota in Boyle Heights. The bakery space on Whittier Blvd. has been heavily renovated over the last few years, but not to worry, the baked goods are better than ever. That includes pan dulce, fresh bolillo, and a flan worth driving across town to get. But let’s be real - most everyone in line is here for the tamales. Our favorites include the chicken mole and the slightly spicy chili rojo. You can get a dozen for $24, and if you want to skip the line (of course you do), order ahead through their website.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, Tamales Liliana’s is another Boyle Heights institution where lines can get long quickly. Here’s our tip: Head to the smaller, original location on E. 1st St. Crowds tend to be much leaner compared to their flagship location on Cesar Chavez, and the tamales are just as good. The chili verde is tremendous here, but if you’re looking for something sweeter, don’t pass up the pineapple one either.
Sabor Colombiano is an excellent Colombian restaurant in Pico-Union serving two different kinds of Colombian-style tamales: Tolimense and Vallecaucano. The Tolimense is made with cooked rice, pork, chicken, carrots, peas, and hard-boiled eggs, while the Vallecaucano is filled with pork, chicken, tomato, and onions. We recommend getting one of each, and bringing a friend - these are truly gargantuan and should not be taken down alone.
Los Cinco Puntos
There are several reasons you should be spending time at this iconic butcher/grocer in Boyle Heights. The chicharron taco is one of the best in the entire city, their flaky tortillas are worth braving I-5 rush hour traffic to buy, and if you need to round out your at-home feast, there’s an excellent market on the premises, too. But don’t forget about their tamales, either. Varieties include beef in red sauce and chicken in green sauce, but it’s the pork (a house speciality) that takes the cake for us. Half dozen for $10.49/dozen for $18.49.
The front page of La Indiana Tamales’ website proclaims that it’s “The Best Kept Secret In Los Angeles” - a phrase that’s almost tongue-in-cheek at this point. Because as the lines wrapped around this 40-year-old Boyle Heights spot will tell you, this is one of the most popular tamale shops in town. We love their pork and elote tamales, but you can’t really go wrong with anything on their menu. Tip: Order ahead and skip the lines.
La Flor De Yucatan is a Mayan bakery in Pico-Union serving Yucatecan baked goods, tacos, and of course, tamales. They specialize in three different varieties: the fluffy colado with chicken and vegetables, hand-patted tortiados, and the chaya-filled dzotobichay. The colado is probably the standout for us, but let’s be honest with ourselves, you’re getting all three - and a relleno negro taco for the road.
If you like your tamales with some serious heat, head immediately to Umbrella Taco. The tiny shop on Melrose opened in October, and has since become a popular go-to taco and snack spot for hungry shoppers. That said, it’s chef Juan Catalan’s tamales that have our attention. He’s making three different kinds - tamal de puerco (pork shoulder in tomatillo sauce), tamal de pollo (chicken in Teloloapan mole), and a vegetarian offering as well. They’re all good, so just do what we do - get the trio for $9. Order ahead through their website.