Eastside 101: Tamal Row

It seems that it’s about time for another installment of Eastside 101, that series that showcases places East of the river that contribute to the unique way of life over on this side of town. Lately there’s been a whole bunch of new fools using the term to give themselves some urban-ness and grit to differentiate themselves from whence they came, even as they look towards the Westside for approval. Yer all sad. Keep it up mofos, we can keep it up longer! Eventually you’ll have to relocate to follow that next media or publishing job and your fake ass “Eastside” will be forgotten. I’ve seen it happen.

But enough about the wannabes, I’m here to present you with a quick roundup of everyones favorite holiday treat: Tamales! There’s a small stretch on Brooklyn with a few different tamalerias which I’ve dubbed Tamal Row, but if there’s another name for this area (Maravilla?) I’m not going to stubbornly try to rename it, just let me know, okay? I figured I’d make it a day trip to compare and contrast their wares! Quieren ver? Pues a la proxima hoja!

I’ve been meaning to coordinate a tamal tasting walk near this stretch of Brooklyn for some time now, gather a group of fellow tamaleros and share in some steamy masa presents. Alas, coordinating stuff like that takes lots of extra time, which I have very little of these days. Today though I did have some time, and found a friend to go along with me as well. We parked the carcancha at this intersection, y a caminar.

We started at this tortilleria cuz of the appropriate sign. Publico, that’s me!

Sadly, they really did only have masa para tamales. Here we see lots of masa “preparada” aka mixed with lard. If you want a lardless tamal ask for just the nixtamal molido or go the dry masa harina route. I’ve been making my own nixtamal from dry corn kernels and grinding it myself, fairly easy to do but that’s for another post! Umm, I’m gonna assume the tamales on the rest of this tour are “preparados” as well, please don’t ask me anymore about this. I’m a bad vegetarian.

Pinche Santa Clos, con razon estas tan panzon!

I like how Tortilleria La Fortaleza keeps the corn iconography  all around the building.

Y siguele con el maiz!

A temple to the corn! That’s pretty cool.

I’m not too sure about the meaning of this UFO next to the temple. Maybe a hat tip to the Raza Cosmica?

First stop for full on tamales, Panaderia La Fama!

$1.50 seems to be the going rate for store bought tamales. Luckily, ambulantes and Laundromat tamales are still just one buck!

A tamal de queso. Did I forget to mention that all these tamales are going to be of cheese? Haha, you foolish meat eaters got suckered into reading about vegetarian food! (Err, semi-vegetarian, read the note about “preparada” above. I told you not to mention it again!) They use a panela cheese and tomatoes, though succumb to the common Jalapeno-as-rajas trick that seems to be sweeping the tamal business everywhere. I’m more of a fan of the guy that occasionally sells tamales from a shopping cart right outside of this place (mostly because he usually still has the cheese ones) but the tamales inside turned out to be quite tasty too. Plus they sell buñuelos, in case yer too lazy to make your own.

La Fama Panaderia 323.267.8610
420 N. Ford Ave 90022

Up a ways on Brooklyn we see an anorexic Hulk Piñata on too much coffee…

…but also some appropriate X-mas things to bash.

Next up was a sampling from La Tia, mentioned here before for their awesome breakfast.

Their tamales were a bit on the flat side, and I thought the masa tasted like Thanksgiving stuffing, which I like but that was an odd association. For such a slim tamal, there’s not much filling which makes the package kinda dry. They do seem to use Panela cheese, but they couple it with plain old jalapenos.

Moles La Tia 323.263.7842
4619 E. Cesar Chavez Ave

Next up, the old stalwart Tamales Liliana’s. Around the holidays people start talking about this place like they perfected the concept of the tamal, but those people are usually folks that left the Eastside as soon as they could afford the down payment on the Suburban dream, so the nostalgia for this eatery needs to be tempered. It ain’t all that.

They have a To-Go line and a Eating-Here line, sometimes they are both long. During the tamal season, it’s mostly folks picking up a dozen or two.

Hey! At least you can get a free calendar out of the wait.

The tamal? A bit on the messy side, almost as if they made them too fast, with those husk strands embedded everywhere, something I only expect from the tamales I make!  This makes the unwrapping kinda crumbly, with masa falling apart everywhere. That’s okay though, no big deal.

But the masa wasn’t very tasty, and it had the smell and taste of lard, not a good sign. They also use the economical Monterey Jack cheese that’s become the LA standard, an acceptable filling but nothing special. Oddly, they do go the extra length to use real rajas de chile instead of cheapo jalapeno slices. This sure is an odd tamal.

Tamales Liliana’s 323.780.0989
4629 E Cesar E Chavez Ave

Of course, near the County office they have anti-vendor signs. Thanks for nothing Gloria Molida!

All of a sudden, a wave of Christmas revelers took over the sidewalk, and elbowed me to the curb!

This brazen fellow even blurted out “Cheese!” in a manner most expected of wild rampaging youth.

I tried to bring this situation to the attention of Santa but he couldn’t be bothered by such pedestrian affairs, he and his entourage had toys to deliver.

Saturday Night, a Very Be Careful fundraiser, it goes on til 2am, there’s still time. Zapata with a Santa cap? Genius!

Next up, La Azteca. I really like these signs.

This shop probably doesn’t get as much business as Liliana’s but this small storefront is staffed by some friendly and wisecracking clerks. The tamales had a nice green sauce (mostly at one end) but they were a bit dense and dry, and even though it’s the usual jalapenos and Jack, they still were a quite a satisfying snack.

Tortilleria La Azteca 323.262.5977
4538 E Cesar Chavez

I thought El Gallo made tamales, but it turns out they get them from across the street.

At least they were nice enough to give us a free calendar!

There’s one more place we need to check out, it’s not exactly in the same area but it’s just a few blocks down Floral. You just have to pass the nopal farm.

And don’t even think of trying to get in for some samples, that razorwire is sharp. (Remind me to bring a long pole next time!)

We are headed to Juanito’s, which Jonathan Gold considers the best tamales on the Eastside.

Outside they have their own cactus farm, though these are made of metal. That’s not a bad idea.

The woman prepare these in an open air hot and steamy kitchen, and you can see them working hard as you place your order. These tamales are unique: the masa is really smooth and soft, not dense at all, more a Chicano tamal than a Mexican one. And they use a red sauce for even the queso tamales, instead of the typical green tomatillo sauce. It works pretty good. They’re also huge and greasy and messy, but I can see why Gold likes them. Still, I think my favorites on this excursion were those from La Fama.

Juanitos Tamales 323.268.2365
4214 E. Floral Dr.

Well I hope you enjoyed the tour, if you want to have some of these for the X-mas season I recommend you call and place your order beforehand, they can only make so much. Or if you have the time, head on out to the corner of Brooklyn and Ford and collect your own mix-and-match dozen!

For a link to all the Eastside 101 posts and a map, click here!

20 thoughts on “Eastside 101: Tamal Row

  1. i think I’m gonna head out and get me some Jalisco calendarios… would go great with my Virgen de Guadalupe veladora & charro calaca in my dorm…

    That alien ship is an homage to Jaime Maussan, didn’t you get the memo from Memo?

    Tamales, the only thing I’ll [insert racist Mexican joke here].

  2. That’s funny, I was gonna throw in that joke but I forgot, oh well, here it is:

    Why do Mexicans make tamales for Christmas?
    So the kids will have something to unwrap!

    A classic.

  3. A little farther west on Brannick and Blanchard is La Favorita, which is good and is run by great people.

  4. You should check out La Mascota on Whittier Blvd. and also Lolita’s which is popular but not my favorite. Another one that I think makes them decent is El Gallo Giro.

  5. We usually buy them from the man who yells out “Tamales, Tamales,” in the morning they are always really good.
    I love those locked up nopales thats no joke they don’t want anybody cutting penkas off lol. When I was younger and we lived in an apt my dad used to go to this sort of canyon area in San Pedro it was right behind residential backyards but there was wild nopales that grew there lol he would take his lil bucket and a knife and cut penkas, he did that for many years until we finally moved out and had a real backyard to grow our own.

  6. We used to eat tamales at Juanito’s once in a while when I was a kid in the 60’s. Most of the time my dad brought home a cabeza and tamales from Lolita’s when it was on Indiana. I couple of years ago I stopped by Juanito’s to buy a dozen because I was living in City Terrace. I threw them away they were so bad. This Xmas my my 77 year old mom is making bean and mole tamales so I will be eating in Boyle Heights.

  7. I’ve been jonesing for tamales and last night i was going to get some from Liliana’s but the line was scary long. So we went around the corner to La Fama and now I’m glad.

    Incidentally, King taco on the other end of Ford makes excellent tamales – the Masa is kinda greasy but really fluffy.

  8. I can safely say that I’m the go to guy when it comes to tamales. My moms tia sold tamales in front of the big buy on Brooklyn and Breed for years outta her little tamale cart. She endured years of competition and hard times and established herself with all the local residents. After a while she beggan selling them at her door step on Brooklyn and Matthews and the people followed her. My mom then began helping her, specially for the holidays and eventually took over when mi tia left and retired. They both had to endure getting up @ 4:30 a.m. everyday so they can be at the door and selling by 6 a.m. People followed them and loved their tamales because she never skimpped on the meat or cheese. I can go on and on but like I wrote before, I know tamales and I’ve never had tamales that could top the ones my tia and mom made. Once you’ve had the best, the rest just plain suck.

  9. If your on the big island of Hawaii and got to have some authentic Eastside style tamales for Chreesmas go to the popular El Pachuco on the beach,Kalapana Rd where Eastside transplants Jimmy Gonzales and wife Evvy have been representing with great tamales and other comidas naturales de Este Los Angeles successfully for many years now

  10. I like Juanitos Tamales the best. Before they sold the place to these new owners that are disgracing the tamale name.

  11. damn! that plate with all the different tamales looks so good! it’s like a dream come true. you gotta do champurado next.

  12. My mom was outraged that the King Taco on Griffin was offering 2 dozen tamales at thirty bucks, she said it use to be much cheaper. There’s a “tamaleria” on Eastern in El Sereno and another one on Pasadena Avenue just past Lincoln Heights going toward Cypress Park but I haven’t heard about how good or bad they are. Anybody been there? Who has the best deal of all the tamalerias?

  13. Hey locos, it would be nice if you went to Oaxaca town (aka Koreatown) looking for some Tamales de mole etc. I know that there are some good tamaleria on the east side… …but Oaxacan tamales are good too! There’s quite a few good places on Pico between Vermont and Arlington. I talking about tamales for Mexicanos not for gringos…. and you can get a bag of mole/chapulines to go!

  14. I agree with your choice on La Fama…also the tamalera on Valley and Eastern in El Sereno is the best!!! You can still get a dozen tamales for $12 and the cheese tamales are the best =) You have to get there before 8:30 am in order to get some. She’s usually there by 6:00 am and gone by 8:3 am. She also has great champurado! Can you say YUMMY???

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