For many of us, the holidays aren't quite the holidays without tamales. Because while all those cookies are fun to make and to eat, there's nothing like a plate of warm corn-husk-wrapped masa around pork and red sauce to really make the season, well, right. Yes, you probably should have ordered your tamales days ago — but there are still a lot of tamale specialists open right now, making and steaming vat after glorious vat of tamales. Lucky for us.
This year a surprising number of tamale shops are open on Christmas Day, if your idea of holiday fun is waiting in line at 6 a.m. for a dozen warm tamales. It might just be. Maybe bring a plate of those cookies for the other folks in line.
Gracias Madre — If you badly want tamales for the holidays but happen to be vegan, Gracias Madre is here to help. The West Hollywood vegan Mexican restaurant is making holiday tamales and is taking Christmas orders before the end of Tuesday. There are two versions, one savory and one sweet: a butternut squash and mole tamale, and a tamale with apples and mezcal caramel. Both are $36 per dozen. 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 978-2170, graciasmadreweho.com.
Guelaguetza — This great Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown is currently making four kinds of tamales: mole and chicken; chicken, tomato, onion and jalapeno; bean; and a dessert tamale with raisins. $20 for a dozen, The very large mole with chicken tamales are $60 per dozen; the others are $20 per dozen. 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0608, ilovemole.com.
Juanito's — A brightly colored, cheery little shop on a residential street in East L.A., the folks at Juanito's have been making wonderful tamales since 1956. Steamed in stock instead of water, these deeply flavorful tamales come in red pork, chicken, cheese, chile relleno and corn, as well as a sweet dessert tamale. They're $2 each, and are about twice the size of standard tamales. They're open every day this week, including Christmas Day, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. 4214 Floral Drive, Los Angeles, (323) 268-2365.
La Moderna Bakery — Open since 1977, this family-owned Whittier shop has been selling tamales, in addition to menudo, carnitas and other items, for almost four decades. While they'e no longer taking orders, they're open and making tamales on a first-come, first-served basis, which may include pork in red chile sauce, pork in green chile sauce, beef in red chile sauce, chicken and sweet tamales. They'll be open on Christmas Eve from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. 8035 1/2 Norwalk Blvd., Whittier, 562-695-9414, www.lamodernabakery.net.
Los 5 Puntos — This enormous grocery, which looks more like a machinist's shop than an excellent place to find tamales, has been run by the same family since 1967. The tamales come in pork and bean with red chile, chicken or cheese with green chile, as well as a sweet version. Note that they are open until 2 p.m. on Christmas Day. Tamales are $16.99 per dozen. 3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 261-4084, los5puntos.com.
Loteria Grill — This time of year, Jimmy Shaw's crew is making holiday tamales, and you can order them at all of his L.A.-area restaurants, except for his LAX location. Tamales this year are: chile poblano and cheese, chicken mole, carnitas, zucchini, and sweet pineapple. Tamales are sold by the half-dozen ($24 to $26) and dozen ($48 to $52). 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; 6627 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; and five other locations, (323) 465-2500, loteriagrill.com.
Mama's Hot Tamales — When Sandi Romero retired in 2011 from running her MacArthur Park tamale shop, Mama's Hot Tamales, she didn't stop making tamales — she started catering. For the holidays, Romero will be selling her tamales at the Chef's Center of California in Pasadena on Wednesday from noon until 4 p.m. She'll have chicken and green sauce, chicken and red sauce, pork in red sauce, pork in green sauce, cheese and chiles, sweet corn, spinach and mushroom, black bean and herbs, and guava and cream cheese sweet tamales. Tamales are $30 a dozen, sold only by the dozen, sold frozen and uncooked, with cooking instructions. Call ahead to pre-order, or just stop by. 45 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Pasadena, (213) 948-3585, www.urban-initiatives.org.
Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales — Open since 1999, this tamale retail shop and factory is run by the Ortega family. It's also in Pacoima, which is good news for Angelenos who can't easily trek to East L.A. Me Gusta makes a large variety of tamales, including beef and chicken, pork with both green and red chile sauce, cheese with roasted chile, vegetable, and sweet tamales with sweet corn or pineapple. The tamales are $22.89 per dozen and as they're not taking orders any more, they suggest you "just show up." They'll be open on Christmas Day. 13754 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima, (818) 896-8789, megustagourmettamales.com.
Sandra's and Lolita's Tamales — There's a big sign on the side of a refrigerated case here that gives prices for the tamales: by the few or the hundreds. Which tells you a lot about this place, which is a counter fronting a big kitchen. There's menudo on weekends and enchiladas, but you're here for the tamales. There are green chile with pork or cheese, red chile with pork or chicken or beer, plus sweet tamales. Plan your day and expect holiday lines, as they don't take orders. Tamales are $19 per dozen. They'll be open every day at 6 a.m., except Christmas Day. 5390 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 722-2961.
Tamales Alberto — Alberto Mejia started Tamales Alberto in 1965, first as a street vendor, then as a brick-and-mortar shop in Westlake. The tamales, which are wrapped with corn or banana leaves and come in a dozen iterations: chicken with green chile sauce, pork with red chile sauce, chicken with mole, beans and cheese, tofu with chipotle sauce, spinach and cheese, cheese with jalapenos, and sweet tamales with pineapple or strawberry. Tamales are $16 or $18 per dozen. They'll be open on Christmas Day until 1 p.m. 1644 W Temple St., Los Angeles, (213) 484-4485.
Tamales Liliana's — This local favorite has two locations, one in East L.A. and one in Boyle Heights, offering the same menu of wonderful tamales. Expect many traditional favorites: pork with red chile sauce, pork with green chile sauce, chicken with vegetables, cheese and jalapenos, corn, and sweet tamales in either strawberry or pineapple. Tamales are $18 per dozen. They'll be open on Christmas Day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 4629 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 780-0989; 3448 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (323) 780-0839.