Where to Buy Tamales in Orange County this Christmas

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Because nothing exists on the Internet before three days ago, I'm reprinting a 2009 article I did on the best tamales in Orange County for the holidays--and I'm also ripping off a 2007 article I did on the same subject. I will also note that Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen and Taco María make great high-falutin' tamales, as well. Anyhoo, the retread!

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.

*
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.

Tamales aren't exclusive to Mexico, and eaters looking for other types can enjoy Salvadoran (El Carbonero, 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, 714-542-6653), Guatemalan (Panaderia La Chapina, 2230 W. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, 714-437-9492), Peruvian (Picanterí­a Ariquepeña El Misti, 3070 W. Lincoln Ave, Anaheim, 714-995-5944; www.elmisticuisine.com), Colombian (Colombian Cuisine at Mitzi's Kountry Kitchen, 25381 Alicia Parkway Laguna Hills, 949-768-6499), and even Costa Rican tamales (La Casa de Fernando, 2500 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, 714-527-2010). Enjoy!

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16 comments
Fededico
Fededico

Gustavo, FYI, they make tamales in Northeast Argentina. There is a lot of common meals along the Andes.

Federico Enzenhofer
Federico Enzenhofer

Gustavo, FYI, they make tamales in northeast Argentina as well. There is a lot of common meals along the Andes.

John Smith
John Smith

Forget the hassle; just get Costco tamales. The average person wouldn't be able to tell the different.

Johnny Deep
Johnny Deep

You claim that nothing exists very long on the Web. Most of us know that the opposite is true and is the cause for much legitimate legal and social concern. You'll find out.

Hey, wait a minute, you must already know that, because you give examples of stories that have been on the Web for years. It's almost as if you were so focused on finding a cute way to excuse your lazy re-use of old material that you forgot to think through the explanation you invented. Are you sure Hank done it this-a-way?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Howzabout concentrating on using one name instead of being a perpetual sock puppet, you crazy diamond?

Tamale Lover
Tamale Lover

The tamales at Sarinana's Tamale Factory were a little dry for my taste and not very much meat inside, with that said, the neighborhood should not deter someone from going after the best, if they are truly good, that wasn't my experience.

You might want to give Reynes Market a shot (no pun intended) in Santa Ana,

But, if you truly want a great tamale, and don't mind a trek to East L.A., Las Mascota Bakery on Whittier Blvd is the way to go.  If you are buying them for a family gathering or party and are going to need a good amount, you can't go wrong.

Tasty, moist, good size, flavorful and very reasonably priced. 

See, if you are truly looking for the best, a little extra time to head into East L.A. is worth it.

Adamclyde
Adamclyde

IMHO this is missing the two best in the county: Grande Bakery in Santa Ana and El Toro Bravo in Costa Mesa.

When I moved back to CA from NYC last year, I searched for a few months for the best tamales in the county. And Grande is my favorite (followed by El Toro Bravo). MUCH better than Sarinana's for example, and also better than las brisas too (I haven't tried El Molino).

grande's tamales are just perfect. Large, super tender, soft masa with a distinct (and pleasant) lard induced complexity. They are very generous in their filling and the queso tamal is the best single tamal in the county in my mind.

(BTW, I love oaxaquenos too, like those from el fortin/moctezuma's... I'm focused more on the more northern varieties).

El Toro Bravo's are also very good. comparing grande's and el toro bravo's reveals a lot. el toro's are more dense, with a coarser more, toothsome masa with a TON of great corn flavor. I think the pollo tamal from bravo is better than grande's, but they are totally different. So good, both of them. Gustavo, if you haven't tried, you should give both a try.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Grande is good, but I remain perplexed at the love for El Toro Bravo...

Jim Rice
Jim Rice

There was a vendor selling tamales at the Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market last Saturday morning and they are supposed to be back this Saturday.

Jim Rice
Jim Rice

Meant to add, they were ready to eat, not frozen.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I am going to add—probably under the disapproving frown of el jefe—that I consider El Moctezuma's tamales oaxaqueños with mole negro to be superior to all other OC tamales, including El Fortín's.

You can also buy frozen tamales at nearly any farmers market.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Thanks MUCHO!  I know you did it for Jesus. 

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

HA! Consider it my Xmas present to you for a year that you proved you actually have a brain and great things to contribute to the blog (even if we don't always agree, which is perfectly fine). Now, if only Mitchie can do the same...

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