Good golly, tamales
Well, after checking out the westside tamale places and several Chowhound recommendations, I decided to get my Xmas tamales from Sandra and Lolitas in Whittier, (sorry Thi, don't care how cute the woman is at Tamara's, they charge a fortune!) I called S & L, and they don't take orders. They open at 6:30AM and people start lining up at 5 (yes, that 5 in the morning, yikes!). I was told they usually sell out by 2 P.M. on Xmas Eve.
Hah! I got there about 8AM and was told they were closing in an hour and already sold out. WHAT!!! Someone in line said about 1/4 of a mile down the street was Lolita's Tamale shop -- and they were somehow related, and just as good. Sure enough, there was a line out Lolita's door and down the block.
I waited in line for over an hour, gabbing with people who come from all over the southland for their traditional Xmas tamales. (What fun!) Many bring their own pot to keep them warm all day (they swear it keeps them juicier). No one knew exactly how the two tamale shops are related -- some say it's the same owner, others say it's the same family, some say it's the same recipe, others aren't so sure.
I bought red pork and spicy cheese for my vegetarian friends, the only two choices on Xmas Eve day. Other days there are more choices. The cheese were not my favorites, but the pork were heavenly. They were somewhat uneven in the preparation... some tamales were heavy on the masa, others were all filling and very little masa. But they were juicy, and wonderful, and sadly, there are no leftovers.