QUESTION: With Christmas comes tamales, fleets of tamales, barrels of tamales — tamales without surcease, without end. My sister, who is a much better person than I am, frankly, spends an entire day, maybe two, wrapping and steaming, steaming and wrapping. Most of my aunties do too. Me — I don’t even own a tamale pot, and I have no intention of acquiring one. But I do feel a need to have tamales of my own on hand this holiday season, tamales that I haven’t had to beg off my relatives like the grasshopper importuning the industrious ants. Where do I go?
—Teresa, Echo Park
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ANSWER: My first impulse is to recommend yet again Mama’s Hot Tamales across the street from MacArthur Park, where you can fill your freezer with not just tamales but an entire repertoire of tamales from all over Latin America: Oaxacan tamales stuffed with mole, giant Nicaraguan tamales, spicy Mexico City–style tamales, tamales hailing from Honduras to Veracruz to the Yucatán and back. Mama’s is like a curated group show at an art museum, except for tamales instead of oil paintings.
Still, I suspect you’re looking for the kind of tamales that could pass as homemade if you don’t think about it too carefully, tamales that won’t confirm the suspicions that nosy Aunt Matilde has had about you since the time she caught you smoking a cigarette behind her house when you were in the seventh grade. This year, I had a brief if intense flirtation with the tamales at Tamales Liliana’s, across the street from El Mercado in East L.A., which are almost as tasty as the restaurant’s peanut mole. But really, it all comes down to the broth-steamed beauties at the venerable Juanito’s: plump, moist, thin-shelled torpedos filled with spicy chunks of pork in red chile, cheese and sautéed green chiles, or chicken in many guises. (Reserve your tamales well in advance for holiday pickup.) You may even prefer Juanito’s tamales to your aunties’. But don’t let on. Juanito’s, 4214 E. Floral Drive, East L.A., (213) 268-2365.
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