Authentic Tamales, Fit to Serve Mom

Comments (0)


Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 6:44 AM

click to enlarge the invisible restaurant critic - ANNE FISHBEIN
  • Anne Fishbein
  • the invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:

My mom is coming to my house for Christmas for the first time ever and I volunteered to cook, decorate, the whole nine yards. She is Mexican and is traditional on holidays, which means every year she makes tamales. I never learned or watched, unfortunately; I just showed up at the table and tamales magically appeared. She is flying in on Christmas Eve. In your opinion, what are the best authentic traditional Mexican tamales here? I need both savory and sweet.

--Nikki, Los Angeles

Dear Nikki:

I understand the imperative, but I strongly suggest you make your own. You can get great masa at a lot of places, although I am currently crushed out on the masa at La Morena, next to Guisados in Boyle Heights, because they actually make their own nixtamal. It won't matter if they're a little clumsy; in fact, it may even be better that way. Your mother will believe that she raised you correctly.

But you're not going to make the tamales, I can already tell. I don't make them either, I shamefully admit -- when I'm not having this fact pointed out to me by one of my mother-in-law's friends. I, too, wait for them magically to appear on the tables that are not my own. But when I'm standing in a shivering line for tamales on the eve of a holiday, it is almost always at Juanito's, the venerable tamalero on Floral near Eastern in East L.A. I love Juanito's tamales, even better than I do the homemade kind, although I will never admit this. The masa is firm and thin; there is a bonus layer of it inside the wrapping husk; and the tamales are steamed in broth to give them a bit more flavor. I always get the red ones, but the cheese-stuffed tamales with hot green chiles are really good, too, as are the sweet ones with pineapple. (The sweet tamales at Guisados are even better, if you're keeping score.) And you can usually pick up a package of cornmeal cookies for the road.

It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to reserve your tamales pretty soon -- by the week before Christmas eve, every tamal will have been spoken for weeks earlier, although it is sometimes possible to show up right before closing time and snag a dozen that somebody neglected to pick up in time.

If you want a second opinion, my mother-in-law always gets the ones from La Mascota.

Related Location

Related Content

Now Trending


  • The Year in L.A. Food (So Far)
    We've got so many restaurants, you could eat at a different joint every day of the year -- and probably the rest of your life -- and never go to the same place twice. It would be impossible (both physically and financially) to try them all, but luckily, you have us. Check out The Year in L.A. Food (So Far).
  • Ladies Gunboat Society at Flores
    At Ladies Gunboat Society, the new operation out of the restaurant that used to be Flores on Sawtelle Boulevard, the Hoppin’ John is served as an appetizer or a small plate rather than a side, and the price is the stuff of comedy.
  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.