Essential T: 5 Large Tamales That Are a Smuggler’s Delight

If you find yourself stuffing contraband into tamales, consider these delicious wrapped meals

Last week at Houston’s George Bush International Airpott, a 46-year old man was arrested for trying to smuggle cocaine in tamales, specifically a box containing 200 small El Salvadoran tamales de elote. The style of tamal wasn’t reported by the CBP, but since the man was from El Salvador, it would stand to reason. What shoddy police work to not even ask what kind of tamales the guy was carrying?

The first thing that came to mind for me was ‘why use such small tamales to smuggle cocaine?’ Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to smuggle anything, but seemed risky to choose such a small tamal. Why not use the larger banana leaf tamal that are found in El Salvador, or the several other sizable tamales you can find in Central and South American restaurants here in L.A.? Here are 5 airline pillow-sized tamales around Los Angeles that have plenty of room for stuffing delicious stews (among other things). And, the best part, you won’t even have to go to the big house to enjoy these tamales.


Nacatamal: The best place for this giant banana leaf wrapped tamal filled with cuts of pork, rice, achiote, potatoes and vegetables stewed with yerbabuena is La 27, our best Nicaraguan restaurant in L.A.

La 27, 1830 W. Pico Bl., Pico-Union, 213-387-2467 


Pib (Muk-bil pollo): You can pre-order the pib at Flor de Yucatan Bakery which is a large baked tamal of chicken and pork in a Yucatan-style recaudo, or achiote paste and tomato sauce that’s big enough to feed ten people.

Flor de Yucatan Bakery,1800 S. Hoover St., Pico-Union, 213-748-6090 


Tamal Guatemalteco: These banana leaf packages are so good they are banned on flight from Guatemala (wonder why?) and the best place to procure these hefty pork tamales stewed in a mild sauce of Guatemalan chiles: guaque, pasa and pumpkin seeds on Alvarado between 7th and 8th.

Various street vendors, Alvarado Blvd. between 7th and 8th  St. on weekends 


Tamal Salvadoreño: The chicken tamales at Mis Raices in Reseda pack big flavors of chicken in a rich tomato sauce with chickpeas and olives in a jumbo banana leaf wrap, which would have traveled better on that flight to Houston.

Mis Raices, 7539 Reseda Blvd., Reseda, 818-708-1205


Photographs Bill Esparza

Tamal TolimenseThe mother of a Colombian tamales at Sabor Colombiano is spacious enough to hold whole pieces of chicken, pork ribs, rice, potatoes, peas, bacon and hard boiled eggs flavored by a savory hogao (a tomato and onion sauce).

Sabor Colombiano, 847 S. Union Ave., Westlake, 213-388-0150