Chino’s Tamale King closes

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I was in the MT 60 Plaza in Chino on Tuesday, picking up a comic book at Comic Madness on my way back from lunch at Flo’s Airport Cafe, when I was startled to see a giant banner above the Tamale King sign saying the space is “Ideal for Restaurant.”

Uh-oh. A closer look shows the storefront is cleared out. A clerk at the comic shop said Tamale King left earlier this month.

There’s no farewell sign or message to customers, but the extensive legend painted on the window says the business was founded in 1969 — 40 years ago — and asserts: “We are the original and only Tamale King in the Chino Valley. Come in and taste the history of our family.”

A December 2008 feature on the restaurant can be read if you click below.

Is the “original and only” Tamale King really gone, and why?

Tamales a part of Christmas tradition
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) – Thursday, December 4, 2008
Author: Mark Petix, Staff Writer

During the rest of the year, a tamale is part of a meal.

But during the Christmas holidays, the tamale is a delicious present from the past, a taste of family and a rich Latino heritage unwrapped with special joy.

Every bite is a memory, of Grandma, Mom, your favorite tia, of long and happy hours in the kitchen mixing the masa and creating perfect packets of chile and shredded pork or beef or chicken that are wrapped lovingly in corn husks.

“It’s a family thing,” said Betty Duran.

Very much a family thing.

Duran says for her family, tamales have been both tradition and survival.

It’s been that way since 1962, when her mother, Adela Gil, started selling hot tamales from a yellow truck parked on a dirt lot along Euclid Avenue in Ontario.

In one faded photo from those early days, you can see a little girl among the many lined up for tamales .

That’s Gil’s granddaughter, Lisa Lizarraga.

They were humble beginnings.

“And I mean humble beginnings,” she said. “But we had lines of people all day long.”

In 1969, the family traded its truck for a storefront and Tamale King was born. Today, the family sells tamales by the dozen in a small Chino strip mall.

In front is a tamale cart to remind customers of their roots. In the back, they mix the masa and mold the tamales using Grandma’s recipe.

“We make it the traditional Mexican way,” Lizarraga said. “It’s all by hand.”

The spicy pork tamale is the original, but they also sell beef tamales and, just before Christmas, chicken tamales .

This is the busy time of the year, when families place their orders for the tamales that have become part of their holiday tradition.

It’s all part of a celebration that stretches from one end of the Inland Empire to the other, from Buenos Dias Tamales & Tortillas in Colton to the Tamale Factory in Riverside, to Indio, where some 160,000 people will gather Saturday and Sunday to revel in all things tamale .

The Indio International Tamale Festival is the place to taste the traditions and innovations of the tamale as it is made in many parts of Latin America, from sweet corn, strawberry and chocolate tamales to the savory pork tamales visitors take home by the bagful.

Named by Food Network Television as one of the Top 10 All-American Food Festivals, it is also home to the famous tamale tasting contest, where last year’s overall winner was a cactus and Monterey jack cheese tamale .

For many, the Christmas season remains a call to family, a time to gather faithfully in the kitchen to keep their tamale traditions alive.

They will laugh and maybe argue over who gets to do what this year. And as the hours pass, they will create many dozens of tamales that they believe have just the right mix of masa and pork and chile.

Everyone thinks his tamale is the best, and Duran says that pride is understandable. The recipes may have been passed down for generations, and there is love in each bite.

Tamale King is a business, but at Christmas, when her other children take time from their professions to join her and Lizarraga in the kitchen, there is something more at work.

“When we make tamales , it’s for the family,” she said. “I keep this going for my mother.”

The Indio International Tamale Festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6p.m. It is between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard. For more information, contact

Tamale King is at 12345 Mountain Ave., Suite D, in Chino. For hours and information, call (909) 628-7233.

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  • Scott in the RC


    I remember my Mom getting tamales from the Tamale King way back in the day. If I remember right, they used to have a location near the Chino Auction. The spicy carnitas style always satisfied my teenaged appetite.

    I recently (in the last year or so) tried going there a number of times to get my tamale fix, but always seemed to have a problem getting their schedule to coordinate with mine. Every time I would go there, they would have a closed sign in the window. Finally, I went there when they were open and picked up my dozen. I was the only person in the place and at the time couldn’t understand how they were making ends meet.

    They were not quite as great as I remembered from my childhood but still satisfying.

    David, not sure if you noticed, but there is an independently owned Italian restaurant in that center called Cannataro’s. If you would like to try a different place when you’re in Chino, might be worth a shot. I’d love to hear your review.

    [Thanks for the tamale memories, Scott. And I’ll give Cannataro’s a try sometime. — DA]

  • Bob Terry

    For the real oldtimers, they sold their tamales out of the back of an old pick-up truck on the corner of Euclid & Riverside Drive…circa 1978 or so. They were on the northeast corner, so it was easy to access right there where the old Stater Bros. is. They only offered beef or pork…mild or hot. They did have a couple of other locations around Chino off and on, also.

  • DebB

    Around 1973-4, I used to shop for produce at the old Chino auction — like a flea* market with livestock (is that still there?). I was shopping and cooking for my apartment mates, and remember buying tamales from a truck on that corner Bob mentions. I loved them! My roommates were never as enthusiastic as I was, so I just bought for myself. If I’d been aware of the store, I would probably have visited there over the years. Now I buy tamales from a stall at the Pomona Farmer’s Market, and they are supposed to be gourmet. They’re good, but not what I remember from Chino. But things never are quite as good as you remember from the old days, are they?

    *(Sorry to bring up the subject of fleas….)

  • Lenny And Emily

    Ok.. So NOW WHERE DO I GET MY HOLIDAY TAMALES FROM??? I used to buy them by the dozen for the holidays. I went to place my order, and they are GONE!!?!
    Any ideas? Let me know where I can get some tamales.

    [I saw a sign for tamales at Sonora Mexican Restaurant at Francis and Central in Chino. — DA]

  • I too bought from the flea market truck, and from the chino shop. The best tamales. In and around Corona, Norco, Mira Loma, there is an elderly tamale vendor that sells from his truck drawn trailer, he also sells honey. I bought his tamales a couple of times, and he claimed to be related to the famous Tamale King. He also uses that name. Try these, you may like them.

  • Esther Corral

    I have lived in Augusta Ga. for 26 yrs I grew up in HP, Calif. My parents moved to Chino 25 yrs ago. Every time I go home my first stop from the airport was Tamale King. I’m headed on my way home to be w/my parents for a month on June 30th. I was thinking about tamales this morning w/much anticipation for some TK tamales. I’m so bummed that they are no longer there. I do not know how I am going to satisfy my craving. Do you know if there any other places in Chino that have good tamales?
    Thanks for the info.
    Esther Corral

    [Esther, I’ve noticed a sign in the window of Sonora Mexican restaurant at Francis and Central that they have tamales. (You can get good barbecue next door at Phillips.) There must be other places with tamales, but I’m not familiar with them. — DA]

  • Rosemary Leonard

    All you people who miss the Tamale King can now buy tamales from me “The Tamale Queen” I am located in The Chino Valley area and everyone tells me they are the best tamales they ever tasted. I used to buy tamales from Tamale King way back when he used to sell tamales from his yellow truck on Euclid, and they were very good. But since he is no longer in business, I am taking his place. Somebody has to sell them.

    I make red chile beef, green chile chicken, green chile pork, and my meatless cream chesse jalapeno tamales and much more. I have recently started selling tamales again because of demand from neighbors, friends, family and new acquaintances. At this time, I am looking into expanding to meet the demands of my customer base. I only take outside orders by email. Until we meet, and you are satisfied with the product, then business information will be exchanged.

    My email for The Tamale Queen is

    I’ve been making tamales for over thirty years, and this original recipe started with my mother and I have developed my own style and tasty touches that will have you coming back for more guaranteed.

    P.S. don’t let the last name fool you, I am hispanic and make authentic tamales.