Best tamales in OC?
Despite the relatively large number of solid Mexican foodways in OC, I’ve yet to discover what I would consider legendary tamales (like Juanito’s or La Indiana in LA County). Still, I can recommend three standouts that have served me well through the years:
15852 Pasadena Ave
Tustin, CA 92780
My personal OC favorite. Small mom ‘n pop shop. Absolutely wonderful tamales. Deliciously flavored, well-textured masa. Perfect balance of masa and exquisitely cooked meat fillings. Made in small batches and individually wrapped with care in Saran Wrap a nice touch for portability and ease of re-heating. Special order larger quantities in advance. Variable taste and consistency but always wonderful.
El Toro Bravo Tortilleria
727 West 19th Street
Costa Mesa, CA
Outstanding tamales made en masse for direct and bulk sale. House-blended masa is exceptional in taste and texture. Fresh meat fillings are superbly seasoned and cooked. Love their red chile pork. Prepare to wait your turn in a line that moves fairly quickly. Reliable consistency.
Grande Bakery & Tortilla
214 N Grand Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Although pan dulces are their strong point, Grande’s tamales are very good and always fresh. The red chile beef and pork are equally good, but the star of the show is the green chile cheese. Tamales are made by hand continuously throughout the day. Extremely consistent in all respects. They open and close early, 6am–2pm and are closed on Mondays.
I make tamales. I prepare my own masa, make my sauces and roast everything myself for the sake of quality control., Sea salts, fresh roasted peppers, homemade stocks... Always aiming for memorable. Saying that... Grande's green chile chicken tamales are wonderful. And the price is right too.
214 N Grand Ave, Santa Ana, CA
I've been going to grande with my kids every Saturday morning since moving back to the area a few months ago (on degustateur's recommendation, i believe). Totally agree that the green chile is fantastic... Definitely my favorite.
El toro bravo is also very good. A different kind of tamale, really. While grande's are fatter, with a lighter, softer dough, bravo's are a little firmer with a more toothsome masa. Bravo's masa has a deeper corn flavor too. But, both are great. I prefer bravo's chicken, but grande's rajas.
You might want to try La Perla del Amazona at the Santa Ana Zoo. No joke. You don't have to enter the zoo to patronize the restaurant, but excellent tacos and tamales at the zoo can't be beat. I was there two days ago and they had a sign up advertising their tamales by the dozen. http://santaanazoo.org/visinfoe4.htm
El Toro Carniceria-Meat Shop was recommended to me for a party I was having a couple months ago. All of the food was tasty, including the tamales and very reasonable. I have never seen a place that busy either. If you go, good luck parking-it's a zoo.
1340 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703