Across much of Mexico and the Southwestern U.S., tamales are as associated with Christmas as yule logs and egg nog. It’s generally believed that the association stems from a Mexican tradition of neighborhood parades that reenact the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to give birth. Because tamales can be made ahead and transported easily, they became the picnic food of choice for these community celebrations and tamales have been a holiday staple ever since. There are plenty of places around Los Angeles that will sell you Christmas tamales, from holes in the wall to high-end dining, but here are a few of our top picks.
Chichen Itza Restaurant
The holidays are busy for everyone, so avoid having to wait by ordering online in advance to pick up from this busy Mexican restaurant in South L.A. Your mix of traditional tamales ($2.99 to $5.99 each) will come steamed inside of banana leaves in the Yucatan tradition, rather than the usual corn husks. If you’re feeding a large crowd, contact them now to discuss getting in a catering order. Chichen Itza, 3655 S Grand Ave
Two vegan varieties are available from Gracias Madre—a savory version with butternut squash and mole sauce, and a sweet one with pineapple and apple filling. They’re available in bundles of a dozen for $36. Orders must be placed via their website by December 22 for pick-up on Christmas Eve. Gracias Madre, 8905 Melrose Ave
La Mascota Bakery
This Boyle Heights tamale shop had already been in operation for 65 years when it was bought early in 2016 by new owners, Francisco and Patty Aparicio, the husband-and-wife team behind the Cuban bakery Gigi’s. They’ve updated everything slightly, but prices remain around $1.60 per tamale. Christmas tamales here have been so popular that they’ve already closed advance orders for holiday pick up, but they will have some available for walk-in purchase. La Mascota Bakery, 2715 Whittier Blvd
Monte Alban Restaurante
There is only one tamale on the menu at this Sawtelle Oaxacan restaurant, but mole-lovers will seek it out. For $4.99, the large banana-leaf steamed tamale comes smothered in dark black mole sauce and stuffed with braised chicken. Advance orders can be placed on their website for pick up times through December 24. Monte Alban Restaurante, 11929 Santa Monica Blvd
Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales
The family that owns Me Gusta brought their tamale recipes with them straight from Jalisco to the San Fernando Valley, where a small café has grown into a large restaurant, catering and market-vending operation. Each day, they make beef, pork, chicken, corn, veggie and pineapple varieties ($2.45 each or $27.25 per dozen) and all are free of butter and lard. Call them at 818-896-8789 to place a Christmas tamale order; they’ll be accepting orders as late as the 22nd. Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, 13752 Van Nuys Blvd, Pacoima
Want more? Sign up here to stay in the know.