Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Tamales

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City
Chicago's Bounty of Tamales

Its the holiday season and 'tis the time for tamales. They are a big part of the Christmas time tradition in Mexican families. Its during the holiday season that an entire family will gather in the kitchen and make 100's of the families tamale recipe to be shared with friends and family during the celebration. Its a tradition that comes from Mexico and is very popular in Northern Mexico and all around the USA today. Tamales, which can take an army and a days time to make are made by generations and recipes and tips are passed down every Christmas season. Its not just the hunks of heaven in a husk but also the time spent with loved ones making food with love that is loved by all that makes it an important family tradition. Over time it has become accustom to bring large batches of tamales to Christmas parties and to share them with co-workers, employees etc...

Christmas time is Tamale time

There is certainly no shortage of tamale vendors in Chicago. It should be no problem getting your batch of x-mas tamales ready to go this holiday season should you not have the time, patience or skills necessary to make them yourself. Just be sure to place your order at least a week in advance because the places that make them, go through them like lotto tickets on a record jackpot week during the days leading up to Christmas. I'm someone who's been eating tamales since I was 6-7 years old and they have always been one of my favorite foods. I've traveled North, South, East and West around Chicagoland going on 12 years now and I have tried 100's and 100's of tamales. Here are a few that I can personally and highly recommend this tamale season. Let me just say that you cant go wrong with any of these five spots. They are Chicago's all 1st team tamale mavens. So with that, here are Chicago's best tamales.

La Casa Del Pueblo Taqueria

In Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood

As far as store bought or restaurant made tamales go-La Casa Del Pueblo is the current 5+ year reigning champ in my search. Granted its been on again and off again they are the most consistent and closest to me of all the places on this list. My definition of a perfect tamale is a heavily spiced light fluffy dough that basically melts on your tongue when eating them. I also like a nice meat to masa ratio and La Casa Del Pueblo is the most consistent with having the best dough. Since they're smaller they only fit so much meat inside but still these tamals are always excellent. I still remember when I first found this cafeteria style dining spot that is the restaurant part to the supermarket next door. Its a steam plate cafeteria that has a menu a mile long. Every cook in the kitchen is an old Mexican lady and the meals are homestyle goodness to say the least. But its the tamales that really stand out here. I always order red pork when it comes to choosing a type, its my favorite by far. They go quick and and can run out but usually have them because they make so many. I go here all the time when I need to pick up a bunch of tamales. Although on the smaller side they pack the most punch flavor wise. You can grab them by the half dozen and whole dozen to go.

Tamale Greatness at La Casa Del Pueblo

Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero

In Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood

Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero is a one stop shop. Aside from the Pozole Menudo and tamal Oaxaca's available on weekends, its tamales only (available everyday) at this shop on North Clark in Rogers Park. The place is owned and run by Senora Bustamante, who used to sell her tamales on Sunday mornings in front of the McDonald's at Clark and Pratt. About three years ago she made the move to a storefront where her fabulous product is now available six days a week. Senora's tamales are of the Guerrerense style and are some of the best out there. Its become one very popular spot for breakfast and lunch since its opening. All of her loyal customers from her days on the corner selling them out of a cooler, file in regularly for their favorite tamales. If a place can survive with slanging nothing but masa rolls filled with meat or veggies and sometimes know its good.

The entire menu at Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero

What your going to get here are some plump, juicy and an air-like fluffiness. The tamales are handmade daily in the back by some lovely Mexican grandmas who have perfected the art of making them. Its very obvious these aren't machine made because some are hotter than others and contain more sauce while others have more meat etc...My favorites guessed it, the pork in roja and they contain a decent amount of heat. Its these tamales that remind me most of the ones I used to enjoy as a kid. This particular style is unlike any other around town and I must say that when I make it up there, they're always my favorite. One last tip-don't bother getting just one or two, you'll be pissed you didn't get a dozen and have some for later.

Tamales fit for a King at Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero

The inside of a roja pork from Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero

Manolo's Tamales

In Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood

Manolo's puts their tamales in their restaurants name so they should be good. When I drove by this little place on Kedzie one day a year or so back, I had to stop in and try them. Having never seen it before or heard of the place, it had me wondering what I might be missing. The family run joint is your typical looking taqueria with your typical menu with some tamales that are not so typical. I guess they're the namesake for a reason. When you walk in and walk up to the counter to order you will see a large pot with the days tamales steaming away. They keep it simple and offer both meat (pork and chicken) in either red or green sauce along with fruit filled tamales. Its all about the pork in roja for me.

Tamale perfection from Manolo's

Manolo's tamales are well sized and bigger than most. They also taste better than most and are one of my favorites. I would say they also have more lard than most because these are very juicy and have a great texture and can sometimes slip out of your hands. Manolo's isn't shy about adding extra anything and these are nicely sized due to the generous amount of pork inside. I will rarely order less than a half dozen if not a whole when ordering tamales from anywhere. There's no reason not to when they will rarely cost you more than $10 for a dozen and they reheat so well. I visit the Manolos in Gage Park but they also have a location at 4706 West 63rd Street near Midway.

Juicy Meaty Goodness from Manolo's

Taqueria El Milagro

In Chicago's Little Village neighborhood

We've already featured the wonderful tamales at El Milagro right HERE. As mentioned in that article, I have long loved the product from here and they never disappoint. I would say that the best part of Milagro's homemade tamales is the pork inside but also the masa is full of flavor too. Each tamale has more meat than any other tamales I have had. Its also different with the meat inside. You'll get well spiced cubed pieces of pork rather than the typical shredded pork you'll find in most others. Just like the rest of the spots on here, Milagro does a big tamale business and between the 8+ flavors they have, they can run out on busy days. Learn more about the 26th street favorite for great Mexican eats by clicking HERE.

Tremendous Tamales at El Milagro

Mr. Tamales

Can be found around the bars of Chicago's Bucktown & Wicker Park 'hoods

If you run around from bar to bar in Bucktown/Wicker Park then you know this man. If the trendy hipster neighborhoods that they are, have anything going for it, its this guy. Now this is one hip dude. Mr. Tamales has been around since I was using a fake ID around town back in the early 2000's. I already gave him his dues in an article that can be seen HERE. Over the years he and his wife's godly good tamales have developed a cult following and hes gone onto rock star status. Whats not to love about a dude who pops out of nowhere when your having drinks yelling "hot tamales"? On top of the delivery service to the bar which is good enough, they're also a top notch tamale and one of Chicago's best late nite eats. Common bars he can be found at are Nicks Beer Garden, Map Room and Bar Deville. Which are all great drinking establishments. Click HERE for more on the man and his goods.

Late Nite Tamale craving goodness from Mr. Tamales

La Casa Del Pueblo
1810 South Blue Island Avenue
Chicago, IL 60608-3098
(312) 421-4640

La Casa Del Pueblo on Urbanspoon

Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero
7024 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60626-2406
(773) 338-6450

Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero on Urbanspoon

Manolo's Tamales
5341 S. Kedzie ave
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 436-7029

Taqueria El Milagro
3050 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 847-9407‎

Mr. Tamales
Found Wed.-Sat. & other busy nights in the
Bucktown/Wicker Park Neighborhood bars
MySpace Page
Twitter Locater

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