Tamales are a tried and true Mexican dish, with South American versions making their way onto the metro Phoenix restaurant scene, as well. There's nothing quite like unwrapping a steaming corn husk with the tips of your fingers and finding moist masa stuffed with either spicy beef made with red chiles, or chicken flecked with green chiles and Monterey Jack cheese. And let us not forget the green corn tamales that carry a sweet and savory flavor, an easy people pleaser.
We rounded up the best places in the Valley so you can get your fill of tamales.
Tamales Guadalajara This little West Valley restaurant on Van Buren in Tolleson offers five different types of tamales. The tamales are a little small, but packed. The cheese tamale carries some heat with it, thanks to the green chile folded into the masa. Beef is a staple tamale, and the ones from Tamales Guadalajara come filled with deep red beef that isn't so spicy, so it's more of a friend to those looking to dodge spice.
La Piñata Each tamale at La Piñata is handmade, and it shows. The restaurant only has two offerings -- beef and green corn -- but you can get either one by itself, or add sauce and cheese for a nice twist. The beef tamales are also made with pork. Reminiscent of your (or your friend's) nana's homemade tamales, with fluffy and fresh masa wrapping the hot and delicious beef mix inside. If you've never had green corn tamales, let La Piñata do the honors of being your first, and you won't be let down.
Azteca Bakery & Mexican Fast Food When you read the menu at Azteca, which you'll have plenty of time to do while waiting in a long lunch line, you'll notice that they offer simply red or green tamales. You'll also notice a sign that boasts they don't use any preservatives in their food. At Azteca, they don't make a big deal about their tamale offerings, but you have every right to. The red tamale -- made with beef -- is dense with meat, and has a heat that sneaks up on you, almost forcing you to take another bite. Each tamale is fairly small in size, so don't feel bad ordering two...or three.
La Tolteca La Tolteca offers five different tamales, including pineapple and strawberry to satisfy that sweet tooth. But may we suggest the green cheese tamale? Okay, good. It comes slathered enchilada style, with green sauce and a hefty helping of cheese. Inside there is a generous serving of chicken. It's like getting the best of both the tamale and enchilada worlds; if you like both, there's no going wrong. And in case that you're feeling pretty bold, they sell all the ingredients necessary for knocking out your own batch of tamales.
Carolina's Mexican Food Chances are you've had the pleasure of dining in the no-frills restaurant that is Carolina's. If not, now would be the perfect time. Known throughout the Valley for their homemade tortillas, Carolina's also serves up the most moist tamales we could ask for. The tamales are wrapped in more masa than we're used to, but we actually welcome it coming from Carolina's because of the freshness and homemade element. The green chicken tamale comes stuffed with melted cheese, fresh chicken and spicy green chile. Everything we love.
Los Taquitos Mexican Grill We love little places that push out good Mexican food in a quick way to flow with our busy lives, and we especially love it when they make good tamales. Now, tamales are not listed on the menu inside the restaurant, so don't let that alarm you when you go in. They make green chicken, red beef and cheese, but they don't always have all three, so we worked with the green chicken. There was a substantial amount of shredded chicken inside the tamale, covered in a zesty green chile sauce that left a welcomed tangy aftertaste.
Los Sombreros When a restaurant puts their own twist on a classic dish -- and it's executed well -- we can't help but love it. Los Sombreros does just that with its green corn and cheese tamales. The masa is sweet but is offset with the mix of cheese, corn, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and lime juice piled on top of the tamales. The acid taste breaks down the sweet masa with a little help from the cheese. Los Sombreros also makes red beef and green chicken tamales. Oh, and all orders come with two tamales, so you can share -- or not.
Rosita's Place Rosita's is often filled with patrons ordering chimichangas, bowls of hot menudo and huge burritos. But don't overlook the small section on the menu that lists the tamales. The red tamale comes slathered in a smokey red sauce, with the heat settling as you continue consuming the tamale filled with tender shredded beef. Once the sauce has seeped into the masa, the tamale is very moist. Rosita's also has green chili and chicken tamales. Whether you eat in or order to go, there's something home-fresh about Rosita's tamales.
La Purisima Bakery Yes, La Purisma is a bakery, and they make delicious pan dulce, but they can also put together some great tamales. Tamales are made fresh daily, and the bakery often runs out or is in low supply when it gets closer to closing time. La Purisima, like the others, makes green and red tamales, as well as sweet tamales. Unwrapping a sweet tamale is like unwrapping a sweet surprise, with bright pink masa to greet you. The sweet tamale isn't really filled with anything, but the masa incorporates raisins and shredded coconut. That warm masa scent is still present, just accompanied by sweetness. Side note: La Purisima is cash only.
The Tamale Store The name says it all, and the long list of tamale options won't disappoint. Any dietary need can be met -- if you're a carnivore or vegetarian or vegan. If you're a meat eater, the chicken chipotle might intrigue you, or if meat isn't your thing, go for the roasted poblano chiles and cheese tamale that is literally oozing with cheese. If you buy a two pack of tamales, they come frozen and you warm them up at home. The Tamale Store sells by the dozen, and it even sells tamale bites -- think appetizers at your next party.