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Off Menu: Exploring Afro-Mexican cuisine at Tamales Elena in Bell Gardens

As we try to deal with the 2020 pandemic freight train that continues to barrel over us, we should note a few bright spots— including the opening of a bricks-and-mortar location, in Bell Gardens, of Tamales Elena y Antojitos, which had for years operated out of a truck in the Watts neighborhood (the truck still operates).

In this episode of “Off Menu,” host and columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson visits Maria Elena Lorenzo and her family, who work to bring dishes from their Afro-Mexican heritage and Guerrerense flavors to the public.

Lorenzo and her daughters, Judept Irra, Teresa Irra, Nayeli Irra, Maria Irra and Heidie Irra, are primarily responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. They specialize in tamales, naturally, made with different fillings and tender, moist masa stuffed into either corn husks or banana leaves. They also make outstanding moles: deep, chile-rich sauces that are typically served with meat.

Peterson also talks to the family members about their origins in the Costa Chica region of southern Mexico and joins Maria Irra in making traditional tamales.

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Tamales Elena y Antojitos in Bell Gardens serves pozole verde, moles and other unique dishes from the Mexican state of Guerrero.


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