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Steve Lopez: Where are L.A. and O.C.'s best tamales?

December 23, 2011 |  1:23 pm

Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe are some of the best in L.A.
Steve LopezYes, I knew what I was getting into. You cannot write about food – any kind of food – without people lying in wait, eager to judge your judgments.

So my Wednesday column about some of L.A.'s best tamales has brought praise, ridicule, recommendations and even personal attacks.

As for the latter, I was flogged by readers insisting I was a moron for spelling "tamale" with an "e" on the end. A kinder, gentler reader by the name of Rafael Duran, sent me this: "Tamale is not recognized by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language."

Thanks for that, Rafael, but the Spanish word "tamal" is "tamale" in English, and the L.A. Times goes with the latter, as the word is spelled in Webster's.

I was also condemned for not including Orange County in my tamale tasting tour, and all I can say is that I did not set out to provide a comprehensive regional guide. I just wanted to get out of the office, eat some tamales, and get a Christmas column out of it.

But please, O.C., feel free to step up now and tell us where we can find the best.

Various readers agreed or disagreed with my assessments of the tamale quality at La Mascota, Mama's Hot Tamales Café, Lolita's and Mom's Tamales, while others offered their own favorites.

"You missed one Steve!" wrote Jose Vergara. "Tamales Indiana is about a mile from La Mascota on Olympic and Indiana. They make the best corn tamales ever."

"You did an injustice by not mentioning Juanito's," wrote Ira Chroman, directing me to the popular joint on Floral Drive just east of Eastern Avenue.

Tamales Liliana's, on Cesar Chavez in Boyle Heights, also pulled in lots of votes. The Indio Tamale Festival got a plug from Oscar Zink, and Dr. Russell D. Tyler offered hosannahs for the tamales made by the "ladies of" Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Barbara.

Domingo Urquiza wrote to say there is no substitute for "AUTHENTIC Mexican Tamales," and pointed out that "the original recipe calls for meat from the pig's head only and only PASSIA red chile is acceptable."

Carla Jerome said she and her friend Janice did their own tamale tour, starting at La Fama on 4th Street in East L.A., then moving on to Liliana's, La Espiga in Echo Park and La Morenita in Cypress Park. La Espiga was the big winner, said Carla, with a spinach tamale that knocked them out.

"I have been hanging out in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles since the 70's and have eaten tamales from Liliana's to La Mascota Bakery and everything inbetween," wrote Herman Avilez. "Four years ago I started a new job in Pasadena and… discovered Villa Park which is a quarter of a mile from my place of employment and was introduced to the best, and I mean the best, tamales I have ever tasted. The Tamale Lady as we refer to her sets up shop Tuesday through Sunday selling her tamales from the North side of the park. I have taken friends to Liliana's and La Mascota to have tamales, then I take then to Villa Park and they are won over by the texture and taste of the Tamale Lady's tamales."

That's good to know.

And the rest of you?

Tell us where you get your tamales, and hurry up, because anyone who plans to load up for Christmas is running out of time.


Balmy weather expected on Christmas Day

Most LAPD video cameras in downtown L.A. don't work

Arboretum to reopen ahead of schedule after windstorm

-- Steve Lopez

Photo: Sandi Romero, a longtime community activist, opened Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe as a nonprofit training center for food cart vendors. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times