Though I have been spoiled with homemade tamales from my mom around Christmas time for years, she has not given in to pressure this year and will not be laboring away to make any.
So that leads me on a quest to find warm, tasty tamales elsewhere.
Though I have had a few homemade tamales already this season, (thank you Eloisa), I knew it was time to give those tamale vendors and bakeries a try.
Although an email I received from a blog reader last year about where to find good tamales was deleted long ago, I remembered the name of the bakery he suggested and thought I would give Maria’s Bakery in El Monte a shot.
I also have passed by a tamaleria (shop specializing in tamales) in East Los Angeles many times and I thought I would try Sandra’s & Lolita’s Tamales as well.
SANDRA’S & LOLITA’S TAMALES
I have heard that Sandra’s & Lolita’s can have a long line out the door just days before Christmas but this morning it wasn’t that busy.
What I instantly liked about Sandra’s & Lolita’s is they offer a variety of tamales - pork, beef or chicken in red sauce; pork or cheese in green sauce; cheese; and sweet ones with pineapple chunks and raisins.
I tried the beef, chicken and pork in red sauce and a pork in green sauce. I’m not a big fan of raisins so I skipped on the sweet ones this time.
When I unwrapped the tamales, there was sauce everywhere, which seemed like a good sign. The masa was so moist the tamale just opened up in the middle.
The red sauce was the tastiest with a slight spiciness. The green was good also but not as tasty as the red.
They weren’t very big or meaty tamales but for $17 for a dozen, I guess that’s what you get. They also sell masa by the pound and champurrado.
Maria’s wasn’t as hard to find as I thought thanks to my Sprint navigation but if you don’t have one, just be sure to slow down on Peck Road as the parking lot entrance is the first one past the CVS Pharmacy.
So even though this is supposed to be a bakery, there wasn’t too many pan dulces (sweet bread) or bolillos (Mexican rolls) to be seen but from the front counter I could see plenty of women working hard in the back in every stage of tamale-making – cooking meats in large pots, making masa, shredding meat.
At Maria’s there is only two types of tamales available – pork in red or green sauce.
I grabbed a few of each ($1.60 ea.) and a couple of pieces of pan dulce that was available. They had a lot of flaky pastry kind which is not very common in Mexican bakeries anymore.
What I instantly noticed from the tamales were how heavy they felt in the bag compared to the ones from Sandra’s & Lolita’s.
Once I unwrapped them I knew why they felt heavier, there was plenty of meat coming out the top. The masa looked thick and intact which worried me that they would be dry - no bueno (not good).
But once I took a fork-full, I was happy they were not dry and were pretty moist and tasty. The red sauce wasn’t as spicy and tasty as the green sauce but still good.
The masa had a nice texture and taste that I could imagine frying up some tamales the next day and it tasting so good. Heck, it would probably be good just to fry up the cooked masa by itself.
So they may not have been made at home by my mom, but these tamales sure tasted very homemade and hit the tamale spot for me.
Sandra’s & Lolita’s Tamales are at 5390 Whittier Blvd., East Los Angeles, (323) 722-2961.
Maria’s Bakery is at 4743 Peck Road, El Monte, (626) 444-8109.
Note: Both locations are not plastic-friendly so be sure to bring your green (cash).
What’s your favorite place to get tamales?