Excellent | Worth a Detour
Mama’s Hot Tamales Café
Review by: ayersian
To many families in Los Angeles, Christmas is associated more with tamales than with a turkey or rib roast. Come December, lines begin to stretch down the sidewalk in front of a handful of local eateries, where hungry patrons leave with tamales by the dozen. At Mama’s Hot Tamales Café in Los Angeles, however, tamales are not reserved for special occasions, but rather served year round. And instead of coming in a single variety, these are designer tamales stuffed with fillings beyond what could be considered customary.
The folks in the kitchen at Mama’s dish up many different varieties of tamales from all across Central and South America: Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador in particular. However, limited options are showcased on any given day, meaning that several visits may be warranted in order to sample the entire catalog. Although the specific flavors may change from day to day, rest assured that you will always find at least one or two examples of chicken, pork, and vegetarian varieties.
On a recent visit, we began with an Argentinean empanada stuffed with savory beef picadillo. The crunchy shell was fried perfectly and crimped tightly so that no filling came spilling out with subsequent bites. We then chose two tamales, both wrapped in banana leaves (since both countries have more banana leaves than the more Mexican corn husks): Guatemalan pork with red sauce and a rice and corn dough, and Honduran chicken with olives, capers, and rice. We liked the pork tamal better because it was spicier, but both were very soft and flavorful with a robust corn-grain texture. It’s tempting to fill up on these main-course treats, but be sure to leave room for dessert, for the sweet tamales are every bit as good as their savory counterparts. Fillings include fruits and cheeses, and on one visit we mistook a sweet black bean filling for chocolate.
Although tamales are the namesake of the restaurant and the centerpiece of the menu, there are other Mexican food options available as well. Burritos, tacos, and nachos are served up in sizeable portions, but are only available until 2:00 p.m. each day. A small coffee bar located within the restaurant offers a variety of fair trade beans from a range of Latin American countries. One of the true delights is the Mexican Mocha, a creamy espresso drink accented by chocolate and cinnamon. If you are not a java fan, horchata, Mexican champurrado, soft drinks, iced tea, and lemonade are also available to cool your palate.
Mama’s does not exactly blend into its 7th Street surroundings. In an area where many of the storefronts are without signage and the pallor of the city grays most of the buildings, the vibrancy of this small restaurant makes it stand out from the rest. Located across the street from MacArthur Park, formerly an area of high crime, Mama’s has taken a stand to assure that today’s youth have better lives by initiating a culinary apprentice program.
Pulling kids off the streets and into her kitchen, Sandi “Mama” Romero trains low-income residents of the area to prepare authentic meals and to serve customers. She is committed to revitalizing the neighborhood through the stomach—and to creating a whole new generation of Roadfooders and Latin American cuisine connoisseurs. When you eat a tamal at Mama’s, you’re not only satisfying your hunger, but you’re also helping the community to grow and prosper.
Directions & Hours
- Monday: Closed
- Tuesday: Closed
- Wednesday: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
- Thursday: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
- Friday: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
- Saturday: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
- Sunday: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
|Credit Cards Accepted||Yes|