Five Great OC Places to Buy Tamales for Christmas

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Not a local brand, but who could possibly have a problem with a rockin' tamale?
Almost three years ago, I wrote up this round-up of the county's best places to get tamales. Rivera's is unfortunately closed, and I still don't understand why Central and South Americans prepare tamales (with the exception of Nicaraguans and the Guatemalan pache), but the review still holds true. But other places have emerged over the years that belong on the list--let's first start, however, with the two stand-bys:

*Sarinana's Tamale Factory: Orange County's oldest Mexican restaurant, with an emphasis on what its name says. The perfect pork tamale: stringy, firm masa, slightly red, a bit spicy. 2218 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-8650.

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El Fortín: Sellers of the King of the Tamale Kingdom: the mole negro tamal, a brick of soft masa wrapped in a banana leaf and made with chocolate. Not the sweet you'd imagine, but a sweetness for the ages, a bittersweet paste that will stain your fingertips so deeply even a thousand licks won't make it go away--and you don't want that, anyway. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also at 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com

*Las Brisas de Apatzingan: Michoacán-style restaurant that sells the tamales your pocho co-workers bring in for the staff potluck, but don't order those. Stick with the huchepo, a small tamale prepared with corn masa so fresh it contains kernels, topped with Mexican sour cream, sweet cheese and a delicious green salsa. Only place in la naranja that sells them. 1524 S. Flower St., SanTana, (714) 545-5584.

*La Poblana Bakery: All of their traditional tamales sell (and taste) well, but I come here for the strawberry variety. Mexis, when we make dessert tamales, usually stick to versions studded with pineapple or raisins; La Poblana delves into tartness, selling pink beauties that go well in the morning with a cup of scalding champurrado. 604 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 771-4465.

*El Molino de Oro: This San Juan bakery is almost as big an institution as the Mission. Because chickens deserve love as well, order them--extra green salsa, por favor. 31886 Plaza Dr., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 489-9230.
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