mama’s hot tamale’s…

…of los angeles is one of the main flavors of summer!

summer in los angeles is like no where else in the world.  we are fortunate enough to have a vast amount of free public performances that stretch across the spread of los angeles county.  from the levitt pavilion of pasadena, the summer series of downtown grand performances and pershing square to the levitt pavilion of mcarthur park comprise just a few of the free shows available in my immediate area.

last night was our first summer concert at mcarthur park and we kicked off the evening with l.a.’s famous mama’s hot tamales.  located on 7th street just west of alvarado, the restaurant takes up three store fronts consisting of the main dining hall, an art gallery with library and a workshop on the opposite side.

what makes mama’s unique is the program that allows for other tamale vendors who normally sell their wares via cart, to have a proper kitchen to create and store their goods as well as provide another location to sell to customers.  people who might be apprehensive regarding street food will find this to be a safe haven.  this means that vendors are complying with state and board regulations giving them an opportunity to learn the ropes of business management including tax filing and provides a sampling of some of the best tamales from different regions of south america!

the results, the most mouth watering tamales ever!  vegetarians take note, they have a wide variety of non meat options that are both savory and sweet.  i ordered a zucchini and a pineapple version both surrounded by the creamiest of masa.  my eyes closed as i savored bite after bite alternating between flavors.  so, so succulent!

Photo: Sandra Romero of Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

mama herself, sandi romero, will greet you at the register and guide your taste buds in right direction.  mama is a mentor to many of the incoming vendors and provides them with working knowledge of the food service industry.  her right hand man, martin sanchez, is the current kitchen head.  you can find him out front grilling all of the delicious fillings that go into the tamales.

martin like mama, is very friendly and quick to share the story of his rise and fall in the food industry.  having started off as a busboy and working his way up to restaurant ownership, he lost his place due to economic difficulties and has started anew at mama’s.  he is very lively in his descriptions of their forays into flavor when creating new tamales and his passion for the craft is contagious.  as he regaled us with tales of more and more flavor combinations, we reordered more tamales including the chicken mole.  being a veg, i wouldn’t partake but the unanimous answer crowned a new favorite for the evening!

we bought bags of frozen tamales to keep us during the week amidst promises to return for the new debuting flavors including the much hyped guava and cream cheese (a combo known in brazil as ‘romeo e julieta’)!  one thing is, you can’t sleep on their specials as they tend to sell out quick.  i was deprived of several flavors before the evening ended and the ambiance was so warm and friendly, i didn’t want to leave for the show.  be sure to include mama’s hot tamales in your summer festivities and say hello to mama and martin as they are always there to welcome you!

mama’s hot tamales
2122 West Seventh Street
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Tel. 213.487.7474
Fax 213.487-8475
(conveniently located near the
mcarthur park metro exit on alvarado)


photos except where noted are copyright janene dunbar. many thanks to andrew tamandl and dan garcia for their hearty appetites and enthusiasm!