Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >
Apr 13, 2010 09:36 AM

Tamales between HB and Santa Ana?

In town for a few weeks again and, as always, I'm enjoying schlepping around and finding early-morning tamales around the Huntington Beach-Santa Ana area.

I realized I first made a query on this topic a full seven years ago here on this board, then again four years ago. Since those posts, I've been going to a few different places (El Gallo Giro, etc.).

Unfortunately, I'm finding El Gallo Giro's tamales to be sub par lately (or perhaps just unpredictable). I went to Sarinana's Tamale Factory this morning too. It was quite good (and they had rajas con queso, which I love).

But I'm sure there are other good gems out there that are serving great tamales. Where are your favorites, anywhere between HB and Santa Ana?

Tamale Factory
981 Iowa Ave Ste A, Riverside, CA 92507

El Gallo Restaurant
4421 Las Posas Rd Ste C, Camarillo, CA 93010

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Greetings, Adam!

    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 - you should seriously consider a drive up for both. They're each different but equally wonderful). Still, I can recommend three standouts that have served me well through the years:

    El Chilito
    15852 Pasadena Ave
    Tustin, CA 92780
    (714) 730-9182

    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
    (949) 650-8272

    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
    (714) 547-1851

    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.

    p.s. You have a great blog; I really enjoy reading it.

    El Toro Bravo Tortilleria
    739 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

    Grande Bakery
    214 N Grand Ave, Santa Ana, CA

    El Chilito
    15852 Pasadena Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

    La Indiana Restaurant
    144 N 1st St, La Puente, CA 91744

    Juanito's Restaurant
    2055 E Highland Ave, San Bernardino, CA 92404

    4 Replies
    1. re: degustateur

      Great call on El Toro Bravo Tortilleria. I went over there this morning. Always a good sign when a huge vat of nixtamal soaking They only had chicken and pork today, but they were great. The chicken tamal was the best of the two. Moist, toothsome masa, tender chicken and a really nice salsa/mole verde. The pork was also good, but the chicken stood out to me more.

      How are the tacos at El Toro Bravo? I didn't order, but I would assume they are quite good considering the fresh-made tortillas...

      Thanks again for the heads up. I'm hoping to check out El Chilito and Grande later this week/early next week.

      El Toro Bravo Tortilleria
      739 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

      El Chilito
      15852 Pasadena Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

      El Toro Bravo
      12921 Ramona Blvd, Baldwin Park, CA 91706

      1. re: adamclyde

        Hi Adam,

        Glad that El Toro Bravo worked for you. Their tacos are solid as well, though not as much of a standout as their tamales. One thing for sure is that they are huge and the fresh made tortillas are a real plus, especially if you stand up outside and consume them on the spot. The costillas (ribs) are great. However, if you want some really serious tacos, check these folks out:

        El Picante
        1610 South Standard Avenue
        Santa Ana, CA 92707-2406
        (714) 285-0642

        A tiny standalone shop next to a laundromat just south of Edinger. Although not in the greatest area, they serve up some exceptional Mexican fare. Their tacos are made with made-to-order tortillas (Senorita pats and presses yours out for you as you watch). Great selection of carnes including asada, al pastor, birria, cabeza, carnitas and, sometimes, tripas. Superb salsas and sauces. Extraordinary chicken mole and barbacoa along with a variety of other platos round out their usual offerings.

        Taquitos Sahuayo
        2056 South Main Street
        Santa Ana, CA 92707
        (714) 668-1796

        Awesome Hole-in-the-Wall in South Santa Ana. Asada, buches, carnitas, cuaritos (pig face), trompas (pig lips), moronga (blood sausage), etc. The carnitas is phenomenal and comes out of the giant lard pot at about noon everyday. These folks take real pride in what they do and it shows in every bite. Be sure to ask for the handmade tortillas. Get a bag of each of their salsas, rojo y verde. La bomba!

        At the expense of sounding redundant, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a drive up into East LA for a visit to La Indiana and Juanito’s. There is no place in Orange County that even comes close to what these shops offer. Both are essentially take-out only and are very close to each other so that both can be covered with ease in one trip. People, including myself, regularly drive long distances just to pick up their tamales. I usually make the trip on either Saturday or Sunday morning to avoid traffic and to pick-up some menudo as well.

        BTW, the weekend-only menudo (order it “con pata y todo”) at La Indiana is world-class. Folks line up with their pots starting before 7:00am and they usually sell-out around 10:00am. If you go there, be sure to ask for a small container of their chile rojo, the pasty chile they use inside their tamales. It makes an exceptional topping for their beef or pork tamales or, use it like I do, as a dip. Likewise, be sure to order extra sauce at Juanito’s – it is quite savory and literally good enough to drink.

        La Indiana Tamales
        1142 S. Indiana Street,
        Los Angeles Ca 90023.
        (323) 262-4682

        Juanito’s Tamales
        4214 E. Floral Drive
        Los Angeles, CA 90063
        (323) 268-2365

        La Indiana Tamales
        1142 S Indiana St, Los Angeles, CA 90023

        4214 Floral Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90063

        El Picante
        1610 S Standard Ave, Santa Ana, CA 92707

        El Toro Bravo
        975 W Foothill Blvd, Azusa, CA 91702

        1. re: degustateur

          It's really not a proper trip for me unless I've gone to East LA for Tacos Baja Ensenada. So this time I'll just have to tack on one or two more stops on the way home...

          Thanks for the Santa Ana recs. I'd written down Taquitos Sahuayo among other places to try. Do you need to ask for the homemade tortillas there or is it automatic with the tacos?

          In fact, here's a map I made the other day of OC places I have either already tried recently or need to try soon (a mix of vietnamese and mexican):

          I'm going to add El Picante now...

          Any thoughts you have, fire away.

          And again, thanks for all of this - very, very helpful (in fact I'm headed back to El Toro Bravo shortly...

          *** Updated the link to the google map above

          El Picante
          1610 S Standard Ave, Santa Ana, CA 92707

          1. re: adamclyde

            Adam, you have to ask for and pay a little bit extra for the handmade tortillas at Taquitos Sahuayo. Sooo worth it!

            I was just able to take a took at your map, the link was not working earlier. It looks great - the makings of a solid guide. Very useful. I appreciate the credits. Thank you!

    2. Yo, Adam!

      A dozen or so “under the radar” recommendations for you from my personal list of fav's:

      Binh Dan Restaurant
      10040 McFadden Ave.
      Westminster, CA 92683
      (714) 839-7050

      Seven courses of goat, ghetto style, for about $13. ‘Nuff said. The blood course will challenge your culinary fortitude for sure, but the delicious rice crackers will help get you through it. It’s all good and, hey, they serve the coldest beer in town as a bit of insurance. Super friendly service from the two brothers who own the joint. Enjoy a steamed corn cob if they’re available.

      El Indio Tortilleria
      1502 West 5th Street
      Santa Ana, CA 92703-2902
      (714) 542-3114 Click on the left side thumbnails for closeups.

      Charming hole-in-the-wall where everything is delicious from their signature fresh, house-made tortillas and chips to their chicharrones. Super salsas. Great breakfasts. Fantastic chicken mole – perhaps the best I’ve had. Awesome burritos, especially their tripas, buches and chorizo. Same location for over 60 years. They must be doing something right, eh?

      El Rincon Chilango
      1133 W. 17th Street
      Santa Ana, CA
      Tel: (714) 836-5096

      Dynamite tlacoyos de huitlacoche (corn fungus), gorditas, sopes, quesadillas and barbacoa de chivo (baby goat) on the weekends. Love their chilaquiles for breakfast. Truly amazing foodstuffs prepared in authentic D. F. (District Federal, Mexico City) tradition.

      3502 W. 1st Street
      Santa Ana, CA 92703
      (714) 531-6838

      Great French Vietnamese cuisine. Favorites include their Fried Frog’s Legs, Whole Deep Fried Catfish, French Onion Soup and Clam Chowder. Love their Saffron Rice. Same location, chef and wait staff for over 20 years. Note: the neighborhood looks worse than it is.

      La Chiquita
      906 E. Washington Ave.
      Santa Ana, CA
      (714) 543-8787

      A great ole’ watering hole in the same, weird, industrio-residential area for over 50 years. Check out the customer pictures on the wall. The ultimate cheese enchiladas. Ground beef and cheese are good too! Love their chile rellenos. Solid tamales when available. Start with a cheese crisp and their secret salsa in a squeeze bottle. Cold beer and very good Margaritas. Sammy, Martha and the crew provide excellent, attentive, friendly service to ensure your complete satisfaction. Many loyal, regular customers.

      Mariscos Puerto Esperanza
      1724 N. Tustin Ave.
      Tustin, CA
      (714) 998-3599

      Chef Santiago and his wife Concha Vallejo have graced OC with some of the finest Sinaloan/Nyarit style cuisine to be found anywhere. Santiago’s 30 + years of restaurant experience is apparent in every dish he offers. First among the must haves is the Pescado Robalo Zarandeado, a savory whole white fish from the waters off Mazatlan. Grilled to perfection and topped with an exquisite roasted chile sauce. Served with grilled marinated veggies, two styles of rice and frijoles borrachos, it’s guaranteed to rock your culinary world. The langostinos and the lobster are viable alternatives. Robust margaritas made with a special tequila (agave) wine from Mexico and a unique horchata slush are recommended accompaniments.

      Memphis Soul Café & Bar
      2920 Bristol St.
      Costa Mesa, CA 92626
      (714) 432-7685

      Very tasty Gumbo, Catfish Po’ Boy, Popcorn Shrimp Tacos. Great Sunday Brunch – get the Pork Chop and wash it down with a Pink Lemonade Martini (or two). Most of the bartenders really know how to pour a drink. Gets quite busy during prime time. Bar seating is usually available.

      Memphis Soul Café & Bar
      201 N. Broadway
      Artist’s Village
      Santa Ana ca 92701
      (714) 564-1064

      For some reason, I prefer the Costa Mesa location. Maybe it’s the 50’s Southern dive bar vibe.

      Lola Gaspar
      211 W 2nd St
      Santa Ana, CA 92701
      (714) 972-1172

      A rockin’ Spanish tapas bar/restaurant in the heart of Downtown Santa Ana’s Artist’s District (right behind Memphis). Excellent selection of authentic, well-prepared tapas and high octane drinks. The duck fries, Jamon Serrano and lobster tacos are must haves. The scene and vibe is great and really lends itself to party time. Very popular happy hour.

      2801 West Ball Rd.
      Anaheim, CA, 92804
      (714) 826-8859

      Hana does a exceptional job bringing OC some of the finest Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine the world has to offer. Everything is cooked to order, so be prepared to wait. Her Injera bread is the best I’ve had. Try the Kitfo (raw beef), the chicken with egg, the hamli (greens) and the shiro (pureed chickpeas) for a wonderful dining experience not to be forgotten. Another gem in the corner of a rough looking strip mall. Like eating in someone’s home. What’s great is that she’s open everyday from morning to night and doesn’t require reservations. Finish off your meal with an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It will definitely wake you up after you’ve gorged yourself.

      Pina’s Bistro
      640 West First Street
      Tustin, California 92680
      (714) 730-5442

      Pina and her daughters run this charming little bistro like an Italian home kitchen. Hey, that’s just what it is. She sources much of her product from Italy, notably her cheeses, cured meats and spices. The recipes are from her mother and grandmother. Felicia, her wonderful daughter, is an incredibly talented chef while Hana takes care of your every need at the table. Try the Gnocchi Gorgonzola with Sausage (she makes her own) and onions, the White Cheese Pizza (she’ll know who sent you), the Veal Chop, and the Ravioli. Save room for dessert. Pina’s Tiramisu is arguably the best outside of Italy. The Black Walnut Cake is to die for. Everything is cooked fresh to order so be prepared for a brief wait. Very loyal clientele. Be sure to chat up Pina; she’s a real straight shooter who’s not afraid to give you a piece of her mind.

      Shin Sen Gumi
      18315 Brookhurst Street
      Fountain Valley, CA 92708
      (714) 962-8971

      Sinfully good traditional Japanese Yakitori in festive, at times, boisterously fun-filled atmosphere. Chicken intestines, special chicken heart, chicken livers and gizzards and pork feet are must haves. Yellowtail carpaccio and yellowtail collar are requisites if available on the specials menu.

      Sushi Shibucho
      590 W. 19th Street
      Costa Mesa, CA 92627
      (714) 642-2677

      My favorite “go to” sushi bar. 2nd only to Urasawa and perhaps Go’s Mart. Outstanding omakase. Chef Shibutani is a bone fide pioneer of sushi in California (Note: not California sushi) and a genuine grand master. All fish is specially prepared using traditional methods. Naga (Glenn), his son spent over 5 years apprenticing in Japan before dad allowed him into the shop. Naga is now the legal owner but there’s no question as to who’s the boss and where the leadership and direction comes from. Mama oversees the back kitchen, plates the soups and takes care of the guests making sure your sake or beer dos/t run dry. I cannot praise them enough – think I’ll go there tonight.

      Sushi Wasabi
      14460 Newport Avenue, Suite E
      Tustin, CA 92780
      (714) 505-3496

      Omakase only. No California roll! Excellent traditional, straight forward sushi served by Katsu a true master and graduate of the Nobi/Nozawa school. They meet almost daily at International Fish Market at about 5:00 AM to select the day’s catch. Fish quality and freshness are top-notch. Katsu hand picks his Kumamoto oysters one at a time. Portion sizes are relatively small allowing one to enjoy the full battery of the day’s offerings. The Texas Blue Crab Hand Roll is the star of the show. It’s usually my craving for a couple of them that prompts my return visits.


      • 1st & Main behind Pep Boys, Santa Ana

      • Ricas Tortas Ahogadas - outside Northgate Market on 4th Street in downtown Santa Ana. Get the signature – deliciously messy. Check out Northgate Market while you’re there. They have some fresh, wonderfully prepared foods including some very respectable tamales.

      • El Rincon Del Sabor – also outside Northgate Market on 4th Street in downtown Santa Ana. Sesos, tripas and suadero tacos, mulitas, sopes and other assorted antojitos.

      Bon Appetit!

      Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar
      2920 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

      Sushi Shibucho
      590 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627

      Sushi Wasabi
      14460 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780

      Binh Dan
      10040 McFadden Ave, Westminster, CA 92683

      Mariscos Puerto Esperanza
      1724 N Tustin St, Orange, CA 92865

      Favori Restaurant
      3502 W 1st St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

      La Chiquita Restaurant
      14121 Paramount Blvd, Paramount, CA 90723

      El Rincon Chilango
      1133 W 17th St, Santa Ana, CA 92706

      Lola Gaspar Restaurant & Bar
      211 W 2nd St, Santa Ana, CA 92701

      1 Reply
      1. re: degustateur

        In the times I have been to some of these; it never occurred to me to get my tamales at them.
        Are they "off menu" items? :)

      2. I am so happy to see you got a response to your query; I was desperately looking at Christmas time and fortunately did have 2 responses; neither of which were these.
        Please post your favorites when you have time; I'd love to know what you found.
        Thanks in advance!

        If none of them work out; you can do what I did and choose from the LA board favs -
        then drop them $100 and spend your day off learning to make them from scratch.
        It is well worth it; a phenomenal experience.