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L.A. Taco Guides

The 26 Best Tamales In Los Angeles

1:30 PM PST on November 29, 2022

It's that particular time of year known as "tamal season," which roughly begins after the day after Thanksgiving and lasts until New Year's and often beyond.

During this shift, the city itself is infused with frenetic energy, as everyone attempts to secure a bag of masa-encased goodness. Gente flock to their favorite spots to grab dozens upon dozens to take home and share with their families.

Traditional Mexican-style tamales are made with prepared masa and contain fillings of red or green pork or beef, rajas (jalapeños) con queso, and variously sweet incarnations, including the sometimes elusive strawberry tamal. This being L.A., we’re fortunate to have a variety of Central and South American-style tamales available for our enjoyment, as well as regional Mexican delicacies such as guajolotongos and uchepos.

The South American-style tends to be larger in size and volume, airier in texture, and often comes topped with dried fruits, olives, and different proteins. They can be some of the most satisfying tamal-eating experiences.

While we honor the traditional styles of tamales out there, there are also a group of chefs and cocinerxs forging new paths when developing their own take on the tamal, applying new methods and dietary choices to create different flavors and textures.

It’s no doubt an exciting time to be a tamal-eater. However you choose to celebrate the season this year, here are some options to choose from so that you and your family can unwrap something nice. 

Goat Mafia's cheese-crusted tamal de irria

THE GOAT MAFIA ~ Downtown at Smorgasburg LA

When you bite into Chef Juan Garcia’s tamale made with tender masa from locally sourced Kernel of Truth, that first bite is harmonious. The chivo that Garica uses is front and center but not overpowering and piled high atop a pillow of masa. This year Garcia is offering three different tamales at Smorgasburg: a sweet potato tamal drizzled with goat milk caramel and Tequila Rompope, garnished with walnuts and pomegranate; a cheese-crusted birra tamal, and a chicken pibil tamal in collaboration with and offered at the nearby booth of Saucy Chick. Check Instagram for future pop-ups, or stop by Smorgasburg LA every Sunday, where the tamales will be available until the last event of the season. Smorgasburg LA: Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 53, 60 or 62 - “7th/Central.”

Red chile-stained tamales at Nehemia's. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

NEHEMIA'S ~ Long Beach

Some of the city’s very best tamales are offered from a car trunk in a Home Depot parking lot in Long Beach. Ramon and Andrea Martinez, he from Honduras, she from Veracruz, sell red-chile-stained tamales made from a painstaking, thousand-year-old nixtamal masa process instead of relying on the typical, cheaper masa harina. They are also sold up the street at their restaurant, Nehemia’s. They offer five different tamales, broken down by pork and chicken in either red or green salsa, as well as one made with cheese and jalapeño slices. All are exceptionally moist, thanks to a masterful use of lard that is more subtle in flavor.

The Home Depot at 2450 Cherry Ave, Signal Hill, CA 90755, starting at 7:30 a.m. every day except Sunday and at Nehemia's Restaurant, 5439B Cherry Ave. Long Beach, CA 90805

The Home Depot - Closest transit lines: Long Beach Transit Lines 21, 22, 23, 102, and 104 - "Cherry/Willow."

Nehemiah's Restaurant - Closest transit lines: Long Beach Transit Lines 21 and 23 - "Cherry/Market."

Mr. Menudo Oficial's guajolotongo

MR. MENUDO OFICIAL ~ BELLFLOWER

For those demanding a hot bowl of menudo with their tamales, the ones sold year-round by Mr. Menudo Oficial come from recipes handed down by owner Roger Mendez’s father, Joel, whose tamales at East L.A.’s Juanito’s Tamales were praised by late critic Jonathan Gold. You can always find tamales with pork, rajas, and chicken chile verde here. Currently, Mr. Menudo is also selling the Mexico City specialty of guajolotongos,” essentially one of these tamales, bisected, then layered with a substantial spoonful of chilaquiles.

16203 Clark Ave. #E Bellflower, CA 90706. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 127 or 128 - “Alondra/Clark.”

photo: Guerrilla Tacos

GUERILLA TACOS ~ DOWNTOWN

Pick up a tamal kit to stage your own makeshift tamalada, with the help of your friends at Guerilla Tacos. You'll get your choice of filling: beef, chicken, or rajas con crema. Each $85 kit makes 30 tamales so you and your family/homies can get down and have enough for everyone to take some home. As they say here, "All the fun of making tamales with a third of the work!" Order online 48 hours before pick-up, 12-7pm, through Dec. 20.

2000 E 7th St. Los Angeles, CA 90021. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 60 or 62  - “7th/Imperial (westbound)” or "7th/Santa Fe (eastbound)."

Tamales Elena

TAMALES ELENA ~ Watts

One of the first regional food trucks in the city celebrating Afro-Mexican influences from the state of Guerrero. Their signature, tender banana leaf-wrapped tamales, are served year-round and in hoja de maíz (corn husk), with proteins and fillings including red pork, green chicken, strawberry, and cheese-and-jalapeno. Call to place orders by the half or full dozen, which are being taken for December 12, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day with a 50% deposit. Note: This family was also recently featured on the latest season of Taco Chronicles for their regional Mexican sazón.

Wilmington Ave & E 110th St. Angeles, CA 90059. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A and C Lines or Bus Lines 53, 55, 120, 202, or 205 - “Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station.”

Poncho's Tlayudas' tamal

PONCHO'S TLAYUDAS ~ Historic South Central

L.A.’s moronga master gets equally as down on tamales as he does on his famous tlayudas. Black mole, yellow mole, and green mole options are available on avocado leaf-scented masa. This is OaxaCalifornia, after all. Follow Poncho’s Tlayudas on Instagram for pick-up directions. Order online

La Mascota mole tamal, by Cesar Hernandez.

LA MASCOTA ~ BOYLE HEIGHTS

Boyle Heights is a good place to start for the classics. La Mascota, a bakery that also sells several tamales, is consistently the recipient of much love, both locally and from outside. The seasoning of the masa is wonderful and doesn’t have a pronounced aftertaste of maíz. The mole tamal is light and herbal, and the tamal rojo is moist, with a mellow spice. Additional varieties include pineapple, red chile beef, and vegetables in banana leaf.

2715 Whittier Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90023. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 18 - “Whittier/Orme (eastbound) or "Whittier/Mott (westbound).”

Carniceria Uruapan tamal rojo.

CARNICERIA URUAPAN ~ BOYLE HEIGHTS

Just a short drive away is Carniceria Uruapan. They keep the tamales by the register, vaulted in an insulated chamber. If you walk to the back you can see giant vats of puffed corn, a result of nixtamal. The red pork tamal I got was plucked right from the steamer, as hot as the surface of the sun. The tamal is moist on the inside from the red sauce—their secret to combat the dryness.

2100 E. Cesar Chavez Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90023. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 70 - “Cesar E Chavez/St. Louis" or Bus Lines 251 or 605 - "Soto/Cesar E Chavez.”

Los Cinco Puntos beef and pork tamales.

LOS CINCO PUNTOS ~ BOYLE HEIGHTS

Down the street is Los Cinco Puntos, which has some fantastic tamales. The beef tamal rojo is slightly greasy in that tamal kind of way and perfectly steamed. Cinco Puntos specializes in pork, so it is no surprise the red pork tamal takes the crown. And we cannot stress enough: make sure to get a carnitas taco topped with nopales and guacamole for a taste of heaven.

3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. Boyle Heights, CA 90023. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 70 - “Cesar E Chavez/Indiana” or Metro E Line - "Indiana Station."

Tamales Liliana's tamal verde.

TAMALES LILIANA'S ~ East L.A. and Boyle Heights

If the classics don’t work for you, Liliana’s has a killer tamal verde—a tamal with chicken in spicy green salsa. Make sure you get there early because you’re guaranteed to wait.

4619 East Cesar E Chavez Ave., East Los Angeles, CA 90022. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 70 - “Cesar E Chavez/Dangler.”

3448 E. 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90063. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 106 - “1st/Indiana" or Metro E Line or Bus Line 665 - "Indiana Station.”

Tamales Indiana.

LA INDIANA TAMALES ~ East L.A.

If all else fails, La Indiana Tamales has always been known to have fantastic tamales in six varieties that are always piping hot and delicious. They are a neighborhood gem. Note: In December, there may be a line, but it goes by quick and it is worth the wait.

1142 S. Indiana St, Los Angeles, CA 90023. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 62, 66, or 665 - “Olympic/Indiana.”

Chichen Itza tamales vaporcito.

CHICHEN ITZA ~ South Central

You made it this far and want to try something you haven’t tried before. Chichen Itza sells some of the best tamales in L.A., all inspired by Yucateco recipes. The vaporcito is a beautiful concoction – a thin tamal with cochinita pibil (a restaurant specialty) steamed in banana leaves and topped with pickled red onions. The tamal horneado (oven-baked tamal) has a crunchy exterior filled with seasoned chicken. It is served with a tomato-based sauce that just might be Yucatan’s answer to a grilled cheese and tomato soup. Chef Hilberto told L.A. Taco that he uses finely ground masa, usually reserved for tortillas. The result is a smooth texture and mouthfeel.

3655 S Grand Ave. C6, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro J Line (910/950) or Bus Line 460 - “37th Street/USC Station.”

Angry Egret Dinette

ANGRY EGRET DINETTE ~ Chinatown

Chef Wes Avila and his crew have brought back their Christmas Eve tamales this year, sold by the dozen with red pork, squash-and-cheese, and a mole with chicken. Limited quantities are available for in-person or online orders, which go live tomorrow right here. Pickups go down on Dec. 23-24 between 11 am to 3 pm.

970 N. Broadway Suite 114, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 45 - “Broadway/Bernard” or Metro A Line - "Chinatown Station."

Mi Lindo Veracruz tamales. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
Mi Lindo Veracruz tamales. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

MI RANCHITO VERACRUZ ~ North Hollywood

Banana leaves are the tamal standard in the southern coastal state of Veracruz, where Pedro Barrientos, one of the co-owners of Mi Ranchito in North Hollywood comes from. In addition to their popular pollo con mole, their other tamal options include a vegetarian banana leaf-version of rajas con queso and a vegan one with oyster mushrooms, as well as unique flavors to Veracruz like Pollo con Salsa Morita. Al the tamales are moist and delicious.

13363 Saticoy St, North Hollywood, CA 91605. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 169 - “Saticoy/Varna.”

Birria tamal innards from Tamales Olmeca. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.
Birria tamal innards from Tamales Olmeca. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

TAMALES OLMECA ~ Various locations this weekend in Long Beach

Trying Yunia Fuentes Mata tamales can feel like a bit of a revelation to any tamal lover. After trying her El Rey tamal, made with cranberry beans, queso Oaxaca, and jalapeno rajas, you’re left wondering what took so long to try these divine flavors and textures. The creaminess of the beans makes for the perfect combination of moisture and texture from the fresh-tasting cheese and pepper are something beyond the next level. Try any of Mata’s creations from her pop-up, such as the duck mole tamal (inspired by her shifts at fine dining restaurant Bestia), and you’ll find each one unique in its character, and never leave you disappointed. Her masa is continuously mixed by hand and made from scratch using only nixtamal, salt, seasoning, and oil, and never any pork lard.

El Fogon

EL FOGON GUATEMALAN FOOD TRUCK ~ Lawndale/Various pop-ups

Located in the city of Lawndale, this little truck is pumping out different styles of Guatemalan tamal by the ton. Their rotating daily specials that run through the holiday season consist of a few stellar tamal options, including traditional “Tamales Colorados,” made with chicken or pork, recado, and wrapped up in the requisite banana leaf. They also specialize in chuchitos, which are the smaller and more rotund versions made with chicken or pork and this time wrapped in a corn husk. Also offered are the sometimes hard-to-find paches, made with potatoes as the masa component. The result is vegetal in flavor, making for a more memorable experience when enjoying this somewhat unknown form of tamal. Anyone interested in Guatemalan food, El Fogón is a great next stop. Stay tuned to Instagram for pop-ups.

3850 Manhattan Beach Blvd Lawndale, CA 90260. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 211 - “Prairie/Manhattan Beach.”

Shane's Tamales

SHANE'S TAMALES ~ LONG BEACH/VARIOUSNPOP-UPS

The vegan tamal everyone should give a chance to comes from Shane’s Tamales, which writer Linda Hosmer called “the fluffiest and juiciest plant-based tamal you’ll ever eat” in L.A. TACO. Chayane Sarabia, who got into the tamal game by way of a Morrissey fan club, says his most popular are the shredded chicken with green chile (soy + wheat) and the pork with red chile (mushroom), calling the latter “hands down an exact flavor replica” of his childhood. See Instagram for current pop-up schedule.

La Moderna

La Moderna Bakery  ~ Whittier

Found in an unincorporated section of Whittier, a strong southeast L.A. option for those looking for excellent tamales made with traditional masa that is well concocted and never greasy or crumbly. Order by the dozen in-store or online. Just make sure you do so ahead of time as they sell out quickly. In fact, Christmas Eve is already sold out.

8035 1/2 Norwalk Blvd, Whittier, CA 90606. Closest transit line and stop: Montebello Bus Lines Route 50 or Norwalk Transit Route 1 - “Norwalk/Washington.”

AtBev's Tamales

AtBEV'S TAMALES ~ VARIOUS LOCATIONS

After clocking out of her job at Trader Joe’s, At Bev’s Tamales owner and mother of four Beverly Estrada, immediately clocks into her career as a tamal vendor in her USC-adjacent neighborhood, offering her menu of five handmade tamales—respectively featuring birria, mole, rajas, pork with salsa roja, and chicken with salsa verde—at all hours of the day and night from her cart that’s been designed by L.A. street artist DEFER. Fan comments include: “by far the best tamales I have ever tried.” Watch Instagram for locations and ordering info.

La Masita Fina

LA MASITA FINA ~ CITYWIDE POP-UPS

After culinary school, La Masita Fina’s Cristina Torres followed the memories of making tamales with her mom for the holidays and learning of her dad’s secret past as the head chef at Tequila Willie's, the Manhattan Beach sister to the El Torito chain, pushing her to launch the business while concentrating her expertise and hustle on the classic tamal trio of pollo con chile verde, puerco con mole rojo, and rajas-and-cheese, all made by hand. See Instagram for pop-up locations.

BIRRIERIA APATZIGNAN ~ PACOIMA

This small, time-tested neighborhood spot is a local legend for hot birria and consome on a cold morning, but has also built a reputation for its “huechepos con crema”: smooth, fresh, tender young corn tamales popular in the state of Michoacan, where the spelling is commonly “uchepo.”

10040 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Pacoima, CA 91331. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 230 - “Laurel Canyon/Terra Bella.”

VChos hand-making its banana leaf tamal

VCHOS TRUCK ~ VARIOUS

Salvadoran VChos is three trucks strong, with an additional location in Montebello’s Blvd Market. All four locations are selling two types of banana leaf tamales made from scratch, a chicken tamal and a vegan mushroom tamal.

Nacatamal from La 27th.

La 27th Restaurante Nicaraguense ~ Pico Union

L.A. offers more than Mexican tamales. Central American enclaves in Pico Union have great tamales (or their versions). La 27th Restaurante is one of them. Nicaragua’s version of a tamal is called a nacatamal, which looks like a square package tied together with butcher twine – a food present. As far as tamal standards go, it is massive. The masa is smooth and tastes of chicken stock. The pork is marinated in an achiote paste, slightly acidic, but moist and full of flavor. On top and inside the tamal, you’ll find some other carbo-loaded goodness – starchy rice and potatoes. Make sure to chase it all with a cacao drink that taste like chocolate horchata.

1830 Pico Blvd. #C Los Angeles, CA 90006. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 30 - “Pico/Bonnie Brae.”

Tamales at Tallula's

TALLULA'S ~ SANTA MONICA

You’re a spendy Westsider who gets their bread at Rustic Canyon and their loaded fries at Birdie G’s. When it comes time for tamales, you go for a half dozen from their sister Mexican restaurant, Tallula’s, which come by the half-dozen in varities such as brisket, vegetables and black bean puree, Poblano with queso Oaxaqueno, and chicken verde. Pre-order online or call 310-526-0027 by December 20 at 5 p.m. for pickup and delivery from December 21-23.

Tamales at Miguel's Jr.

MIGUEL'S JR. ~ O.C/INLAND EMPIRE

The 21-strong Miguel’s Jr. chain is offering seasonal tamales said to be using 100% stone-ground premium masa and the family recipes of Central Mexico-raised co-founder Mary Vasquez. Chile rojo pork and chicken are on offer, both to eat a la carte in-store and to pre-order by the dozen.

Editor’s note: Cesar Hernandez originally wrote this list in December, 2018. Gab Chabran updated this list for the 2021 season, and Hadley Tomicki has updated it for 2022. Make sure to call ahead to any of these spots for updates on tamal availability before you go… to avoid masa heartbreak. 

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