Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Mountain States >
Oct 3, 2007 08:14 AM

Who sells the best tamales in Denver?

Inspired by the Phoenix tamale post, I thought I'd ask about the best Denver tamales. I'm a tamale fanatic, and given that tamales are one of the staples of new mexican cuisine, we should have some great ones in town. I still haven't found a local tamale that comes close to the ones I grew up on (from Dona Marias in Las Vegas), but I admit that I haven't been trying that hard.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I like the ones from La Popular @ 20th & Lawrence and La Casita @ 44th & Tennyson across the way from Parisi. They're not fancy, but they're good (and cheap). Hopefully La Popular is still under the same ownership, as I haven't had them regularly since I worked downtown. Tamayo used to have a fantastic Tamal al Chipotle with an avocado slice on top in their appetizers section, but it disappeared when they revamped the menu. Now it's a Tamal Oaxaqueno with mole (and I didn't care for their mole back in the day, although it could also be quite different now). I'm wondering if the Chicken Tamal at Sandoval's La Sandia is the same thing since the menu indicates it comes with a chipotle sauce. Most of the tamales that end up on combination platters at sit-down restaurants in the Denver metro area aren't all that special, unfortunately. (Incidentally, the best I ever had were purchased out of the back of a nondescript van in a corporate parking lot in Austin.)

    1. My all-time Denver favorite tamal is La Cueva, East Colfax, very near the Fox Theater, in "old town" Aurora, south side of the street. I would go nearly every Wednesday for lunch, because it was "Tamal Day," and get the special, add a cheese enchilada, and an ice tea. I had a dozen clients, who would call me up on Tuesday, to remind me that Wednesday was just around the corner, and to not forget to invite THEM.


      PS, I almost did it again. I saw Denver, but read Phoenix. Dang, gotta' get the glasses checked. I was about to post the link to the Phoenix Tamale thread... Maybe my body's in Phoenix, but part of my heart is still in Denver.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        It's clearly time to move back, Bill.

      2. Not sure about Denver, but head to Boulder on Saturdays for the Farmer's Market while it's still going on and get dynamite tamales in the food tent area. Original recipes developed by Bruce Monette who owned Southern Exposure many years ago.

        4 Replies
        1. re: IslayMan

          I am very well acquainted with the Boulder farmer's market tamales. While I love them (I've eaten four in a sitting), they don't strike me as particularly authentic.

          1. re: Megiac

            Who said anything about authentic? I've had authentic tamales in Mexico and I'll gladly sacrifice the dysentary for great flavor!

            1. re: Megiac

              Are you guys talking about the Amazing Corn Tamales on the main drag of the Boulder Farmer's Market or another vendor?

          2. Judith at Aspen Grove sells great Pork and Chicken Tamale's wrapped in banana leaves (eat therer or take home the frozen ones) every Wednesday at Aspen Grove Farmer's Market. Only a few weeks left. Her chipotle sauce and fish taco s are good also. She has homemade tortillas too, whole wheat and white. Plus she is a cheerful nice lady that we all look forward to seeing!

            1. I do not think the tamales are really all that good here in Denver. I prefer ones that are wrapped and cooked in banana leaves, they result in a moister creamier masa. La Casita is good....if you like the traditional tamales that are somewhat dry and gritty though.

              3 Replies
              1. re: bcervantes29

                Much depends on which countries' tamales one likes. While there are some Caribbean restaurants in Denver, there will be more Mexican tamales, and corn husks are much more common. What is "traditional" in one area of the world is totally unheard of in many others.

                When we lived in New Orleans, there was a tiny Guatamalan restaurant, Chapenlandia. While they mainly focused on the cuisine of Guatamala, they also featured certain dishes from around the Caribbean. One could get several different Mexican tamales, representing different states. One could get Guatamalan tamales, which were wrapped in banana leaves. Same for Cuban tamales. We'd go in and order the dozen, or so, different tamales that they did. It took some time, and for a mom-n-pop place, the prices were definitely at mid-level for those days. Still, it was like taking a cruise around the Caribbean and sampling handmade tamales from every country that you visited.

                While I loved them all, my favorites were still the Tex-Mex tamales from Tampico, Mexico. These were smothered in a colorado sauce, just as are most enchilladas from the Texas/Mexican border.

                Now, to Denver, I would always beg Señora Nuñez (La Cueva) for her mole, to smother her tamales. If one of the extended family members was serving me, they'd have to go to her for approval, as the mole was usually done with chicken in a combined dish. Absolutely fantastic and it took an additonal side-order of corn tortillas to "clean up."

                Though I have been in AZ for 11 years, I still miss "tamale day" (Wednesday in those days) at La Cueva.

                Now, another "Denver tamale," and one that is long gone, was Chef Michael Dagenhart's Portobello Tamale from Tante Louise. OK, a tamal at a French restaurant. How good could that be? You had to be there. When my wife came back up to Denver for her 50th birthday and also her "going away" party, this was one of two dishes that she requested from Chef Dagenhart. The other was his take on "pecan-crusted, garlic sautéed soft-shelled crab."

                Sorry for the nostalga. It all depends on what one expects from a tamal. There are as many recipes, from around the SW and Caribbean, as there are recipes for Louisiana gumbo.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Lovely post, Bill. I enjoyed reading it.

                  La Cueva is still around, but I haven't tried the tamales. Maybe the revival of this thread will produce more recommendations.

                  1. re: rlm

                    Glad to hear that members of the Nuñez family are still active. Since our departure from the "Mile High City," I'd venture that Nabor, or his lovely wife might not still be with us.

                    Way back then, there was another great tamal spot, _____ Tavern 2. Cannot conjure up the first part, right now, but others will fill in the blanks and can comment on the here and now.

                    Thanks for the update. We'll be back in August, and I hope that we'll have one Wednesday, for "Tamale Day!"