Unwrapping presents is great and all, but have you ever unwrapped delicious hot tamales during the holidays? They’re like little yummy gifts that never ever disappoint you. Every Sunday, you can treat yourself to offerings from the Tamale Shoppe at Smorgasburg.
The Tamale Shoppe was created by mother-daughter team Patricia Mendoza Lugo and Irene Martinez, but the Mendoza family tradition of making tamales goes back three generations. They’ve spent over 40 years perfecting some of their classic recipes and have created some newer items along the way. We tried all of their tamales, some classic and some new—here’s how they stack up.
5. Oaxacan Cheese and Spinach
We can confirm this vegetarian tamale tastes as good as it looks. It’s made with Oaxacan cheese, spinach, white corn, and green chili. All the flavors (and the heat from the chili) are pretty gentle, so if you wanna turn it up a notch, add some of the shop’s homemade salsa to this one.
4. Red Chili Nopal
Attention all vegans! Here’s a super flavorful tamale just for you. This one’s made with New Mexico Hatch chiles, nopales, onions, and garlic, and has a medium spice level. There’s no lard in this, and it’s made with vegetable stock. While it feels lighter than the other tamales, it’s still big on flavor.
3. Green Chili Cheese
The cheesy center of this tamale is made with cheddar and spicy green Hatch chiles. It has a pleasantly piquant flavor with a little sweetness from the corn. If you’re eating this on a sub-50-degree L.A. winter morning, there’s plenty of heat from the chiles to warm you up.
2. Oaxacan Chocolate and Hazelnut
This is the dessert tamale to end all dessert tamales. With a spiced chocolate flavor and a creamy hazelnut center, it has the richness and the same moist texture of a chocolate lava cake. The spiced flavors of the cinnamon and clove will make your taste buds feel all cozy. Though it’s a dessert tamale, it’s not too sweet, and it pairs best with a café con horchata, one of the Tamale Shoppe’s signature beverages.
1. Red Chili Beef + Pork Mix
If you haven’t eaten a meaty tamale, is it even Christmastime? This three-generations-old item is the one that started it all. No wonder it’s the shop’s signature and most popular tamale (and the Mendoza family favorite). It’s a meaty mix of pork and beef, and spicy Hatch chiles. The spice level is a bit more mellow than the Green Chili Cheese tamale—there is room for more heat. But don’t rush to pour on the hot sauce. This is the quintessential tamale and is perfect as is.
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