As an Angeleno, I take my Christmas Tamales seriously. VERY seriously. For many Latinos—and blended Angelenos such as myself—the Christmas Holiday Season is synonymous with tamales. And where to purchase them is a decision not to be taken lightly.
Tamale is thought to come from the Aztecs' word for wrap or tamalli. More recently, the tamale’s tie to Christmas is part of the traditional Mexican celebration of Las Posadas, which is the annual commemoration of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter before Jesus' birth.
Emotionally, making and eating tamales is a way for families to gather and reconnect generationally. Even though most folks today no longer have the skills to make them, they have the memory of tasting, coming together and eating them communally. So this year, I’m recommending our LA Times beloved food angel critic, Jonathan Gold, Top Tamale pics.
Tamales Liliana’s, 3448 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (323) 780-0839. During the holidays, a pre-dawn line of East Side Angelians cue up for their red and green pork tamales, three kinds of sweet tamales, and chicken with a vegetable medley in red sauce. All tamales are wrapped in corn husks. They have been loved for their taste, moist texture, and consistency for decades. 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.
Guisados Restaurant, 531 S Spring St., Los Angeles. 213-627-7656. Their sweet tamales are light and fluffy. Plus, they steam them in broth for added flavor. Try their mole tamale with notes of coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and the right hit of smoky spice. (I must confess, I like my tamales light and fluffy, and wrapped with corn husks versus banana leaves. Guidados are my personal favorite.)
Los Cinco Puntos, 3300 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 261-4084. Long before Guisados, Los Cinco has been a revered East Side “Mexicatesen” institution for carnitas, and of course, tamales. Perfect for large orders, the beef in red sauce, and the chicken in green sauce, are perfect sides to Mexican-American holiday meals.
La Indiana, 1142 S Indiana St., East Los Angeles, (323) 262-4682. The compact tamales are well-made, with a thin, extra layer of masa smeared on each leaf of the husk, and a rich, slightly gelatinous red chile filling that is just a little different from the others in Los Angeles. The pickup schedule for Christmas tamales is punishing, blocked out for weeks—these tamales are not a secret like they advertise online—so order ahead!
Carniceria Uruapan, 2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 265-2474. It’s a family run, hole-in-the-wall, butcher and grocery store in the mostly Latin American neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Their tamales are dense inside with a soft masa exterior that they make from their own masa on site. Their pork is moist with a vibrant, red chili sauce inside. Simple, rustic and home style.
La Mascota Bakery, 2715 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 263-5513. The family run Mexican bakery has been around since 1952, and despite a change in ownership in 2015, is as good as ever. Some consider their famed tamales to be the best in the city; soft, fluffy, filling and flavorful. They also make a great Mexican Café de Olla Coffee (a steal) that is perfect to accompany your fresh tamale.
Have I made you hungry yet? If yes purchase a couple dozen. They freeze great. And buy some gift cards to help keep these cherished L.A., small family owned institutions in business, because it is the season of giving…And shameless plug, we also offer e-Gift Cards for the picky one this Christmas. Our e-Gift Cards are an easy and thoughtful choice, and help us keep as many good folks working as possible during this crisis.
NOTE: This weekend is when you need to place your order with many of the area’s best tamales if you want to pick them up on Christmas Eve.