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The Best Tamales In Los Angeles

’Tis the season for tamales. Then again, there’s never a bad time for tamales—here are the best spots to get some in LA.
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photo credit: Jakob Layman

Eating tamales during the holidays is a time-honored tradition. But the reality is, in LA, you can find excellent versions all year round. From Central and South American varieties like the nacatamal to the banana leaf-wrapped styles of Veracruz and Oaxaca, here are our favorite spots for tamales in Los Angeles.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Krystal Thompson

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Guelaguetza is an LA institution, and home to some of the best mole you’ll find in the entire city. So when it comes to ordering tamales, the black mole chicken tamale should always be your first choice. At $9, they're on the pricier side, but they're also the size of Nerf football and can easily feed two adults. The spicy tamal de rajas (chicken with jalapenos and tomatoes) is also a must-order.


Though Tamales Alberto was established in its current Historic Filipinotown location in 1997, their tamales date back to the 1960s, when Alberto Meija was selling them as a street vendor and then later out of the back of a local bakery. The tamales themselves are still made using the family's recipe, which produces dense-yet-juicy blocks of perfection. Our favorite is the cheese and jalapeno, but both the chicken in salsa verde and pork with red sauce are strong options as well. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available.


Located in Pacoima, this award-winning shop (they’ve won top honors at the LA and Indio tamale festivals) is one of the most popular tamale brands in town. But despite that—and its massive, 10,000 square-foot factory—Me Gusta Gourmet is still very much a family-run, roadside tamale shop with a convenient takeout window. As for the tamales themselves, expect traditional varieties like beef, pork, chicken, pineapple, and cheese, and expect them all to be delicious.


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This Nicaraguan restaurant in Pico-Union is home to the nacatamal, a giant pork, tomato, and potato-filled tamale that comes so neatly wrapped in boiled banana leaves that it wouldn’t be out of place underneath a Christmas tree. Let us rephrase that—we’d be completely fine if one ended up under ours, because the combination of the spicy pork and the pop of salty acidity from the green olives makes this one our favorite versions in town.


When you hit the stretch of North Hollywood that’s basically just semi-trucks and loading docks, it means you’re close to Mi Ranchito Veracruz. This tiny Mexican restaurant has a hit-spanning menu stacked with burritos and chilaquiles, but everybody’s really here for the tamales. They’re served Veracruz-style (prepared with banana tree and hoja santa leaves instead of corn husks), are perfectly cooked, and topped with a slightly sweet mole negro.


Open since 1952, it doesn’t get more classic than La Mascota in Boyle Heights. The bakery space on Whittier Blvd. has been heavily renovated over the last few years, but not to worry, the baked goods are better than ever. That includes pan dulce, fresh bolillo, and a flan worth driving across town to get. But let’s be real: most everyone in line is here for the tamales. Our favorites include the green chili chicken and the slightly spicy chili rojo. You can get a dozen for $32, and if you want to skip the line (of course you do), order ahead through their website.


Tamales Liliana’s is another Boyle Heights tamale institution where lines can get long quickly. Here’s our tip: Head to the smaller, original location on East 1st Street. The crowds tend to be much leaner compared to their flagship location on Cesar Chavez, and the tamales are just as good. The chili verde is an essential order here, but if you’re looking for something sweeter, don’t pass up the pineapple one.


Sabor Colombiano is a long-standing Colombian restaurant in Pico-Union serving two different kinds of Colombian-style tamales: Tolimense and Vallecaucano. The Tolimense is made with cooked rice, pork, chicken, carrots, peas, and hard-boiled eggs, while the Vallecaucano is filled with pork, chicken, tomato, and onions. We recommend getting one of each, and bringing a friend—these are truly gargantuan and should not be taken down alone.


photo credit: Andrea D'Agosto

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If you’re in line at Chichen Itza to eat cochinita pibil tacos, we don’t blame you. This Yucatan stall inside Mercado La Paloma makes some of the best in LA. Just make sure you also order some tamales. There are three different kinds of the menu, including the crunchy horneado and razor-thin vaporcito. Our favorite is their tamal de colado, though. Steamed and wrapped in a giant banana leaf, the milled corn masa is sweet and moist, blending with the shredded achiote-seasoned chicken to create an almost stew-like consistency. They’re available a la carte, or you can order from the catering menu where a dozen runs for about $40. 

photo credit: Brant Cox

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Despite the name, you’ll find people eating all sorts of antojitos at this Mexican cafe in Glassell Park, including tacos, tortas, and huevos rancheros. It’s all solid, but stick with the namesake tamales if it’s your first time. The masa is thick and moist and encased around juicy, traditional fillings like chicken and pork, plus sweet varieties like pineapple and strawberry. We particularly love the salsa roja that comes with the pork and beef, which lends a serious punch of heat to each bite. Individual tamales go for $3 or you can get a dozen for $34.

photo credit: Krystal Thompson

There are several reasons to spending time at this iconic butcher/grocer/deli in Boyle Heights. The chicharron taco is one of the best in the city, their flaky tortillas are worth braving I-5 rush hour traffic, and if you need to round out your at-home feast, there’s an fully. tocked market on the premises, too. Just don’t forget about their tamales. Varieties include beef in red sauce and chicken in green sauce, but it’s the pork (a house specialty) that takes the cake for us—half a dozen for $14, a dozen for $25.


photo credit: La Indiana Tamales

The front page of La Indiana Tamales’ website proclaims that it’s “The Best Kept Secret In Los Angeles”—a phrase that’s almost tongue-in-cheek at this point. Because, as the lines wrapped around this 40-year-old Boyle Heights spot will tell you, this is one of the most popular tamale shops in town. We love their pork and elote tamales, but you can’t really go wrong with anything on their menu. Tip: Order ahead and skip the lines.


photo credit: Brant Cox

$$$$Perfect For:Lunch

La Flor De Yucatan is a Mayan bakery in Pico-Union serving Yucatecan baked goods, tacos, and of course, tamales. They specialize in three different varieties: the fluffy colado with chicken and vegetables, hand-patted tortiados, and the chaya-filled dzotobichay. The colado is probably the standout for us, but let’s be honest with ourselves, you’re getting all three—and a relleno negro taco for the road.

photo credit: Artesano Tamaleria

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This DTLA tamale specialist near Santee Alley is our go-to spot for vegan and vegetarian fillings, which includes options like jackfruit, mushrooms, cactus, panela cheese, and pineapple, to name a few of their nearly dozen varieties. And if you're looking for something a little more porktastic, they do a great cochinita pibil tamal as well. Orders can be placed via their website.

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