Who has the best tamales in Phoenix? Who has the best tamales in Scottsdale? Fear not, I’m on the trail! In the Southwest, much like my experiences in Hispanic-influenced California, tamales are an important part of holiday eating (although of course they are eaten year-round!). I’m still a newbie in Phoenix, but that hasn’t stopped me from diving right in. I’m a sucker for food challenges. I spent a week in Hilo Hawaii researching and trying many, many loco moco dishes and I’m going to happily invest a lot of time figuring out who has the best tamales in Phoenix.
While many of the best tamale places also offer some of the best Mexican food in Phoenix, I’m a bit of a purist. I usually go to tamale restaurants for tamales and head to more “general” Mexican restaurants in Scottsdale, like Barrio Queen, who is by far some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. One of the best things about moving to the Phoenix area is that I don’t have to choose! I have an abundance of tamales near me as well as fantastic Mexican, Sonoran, Mesoamerican and South American restaurants all around me!
What is a tamale?
First of all, some of you may not know what a tamale is. Tamales are delicious packets of goodness, made with a corn-based masa flour that is stuffed with meat, seafood, cheese or beans and enfolded into a corn husk (or banana leaf depending on the region) and steamed. Then either a red or green sauce is poured on top.
But why tamales at Christmas? Corn was a very important crop for the MesoAmerican farmers and food wrapped in corn and corn husks served as an offering. From there, tamales began to be an essential part of holidays or special occasions like weddings, baptisms, Christmas, and these days, Thanksgiving.
If you are lucky enough to have Hispanic friends and family then during the holidays you will likely partake in a tamale-making-and-eating feast known as a tamalada. Making tamales takes work and the tamale making process is a social event that allows friends and family to catch up and to make bunches and bunches of tamales to share and enjoy. Please, will someone invite me to one?
Personally, I want to make tamales with Ms. Lagunas who I was introduced to by this NY Times article where she explains the tradition of tamales.
Where to Buy Tamales in Phoenix – Tamales For Sale!
The great thing about tamales is that they are often for sale at the shops and restaurants they are made in. They have both fresh tamales and frozen tamales to take home and enjoy later. Also, they make great party food!
- La Purisima Bakery (4533 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale) known for their fantastic pastries and sweet bread, they also make top-notch tamales on a daily basis. Usually a line. Cash only.
- Azteca Bakery & Mexican Fast Food (416 N 7th Ave, Phoenix) a family-owned bakery that doesn’t use any preservatives in their food.
- Carolina’s Mexican Food (2126 East Cactus Rd) they have 3 kinds of tamales: red beef, green chicken or green corn, they’ve been around since 1968!
- The Tamale Store (13046 N Cave Creek Road, Phoenix) they have a very large selection including vegan and vegetarian.
- Old El Paso Tamales (8338 N 7th St. PLUS Terminal 4 in the PHX airport!) they have vegetable green corn, beef, chicken green corn, and spinach.
Phoenix Tamale Recommendations from some Local Experts
I’ve asked some local metro Phoenix area bloggers to help me out a bit and they’ve got some great recommendations. So whether you are visiting Phoenix for the holidays (lots of people do!) or any other time of the year, check these tamale spots out!
From Taryn Jeffries of Phoenix Bites:
In the Southwest, tamales are synonymous with the holidays, so it goes without saying that there are options galore in the Valley of the Sun. When I’m organizing a holiday event or want to treat out of towners to some of the finest tamales in town, I don’t head into the kitchen; I place my order with The Tamale Store. With options like chicken chipotle, pork green chile, Arizona cornbread with Colby jack along with their sweet corn tamale, The Tamale Store has something that will please the palate of everyone you know. I love that all the tamales sold here are made fresh daily in small batches and are great for those with gluten and soy sensitivities (mostly.) The tamales here are bursting at the seams with fresh, flavorful fillings and the masa they use is some of the best I’ve tasted. My personal favorite is the beef red chile due to the slow and steady heat of the red chile sauce and the superb fusion of Mexican spices. It’s the spirit and flavor of Arizona on a plate.
From Jessica Norah of Independent Travel Cats:
The family-run The Tamale Store has been on the lists of “best tamales in Phoenix” every year since it opened in 2008. A few years ago, I saw one of these lists which encouraged my partner and I to order a batch of their tamales (chicken and pork) which are handmade from scratch each day. The tamales did not disappoint, they were delicious and generously filled with high-quality ingredients. I’ve only tried a couple of their meat options, but they also have several vegetarian and vegan options that also sound really yummy. You can get their tamales by pre-ordering, going directly to their shop, or visiting their stand at one of the local farmer’s markets.
The Tamale Store in Phoenix, 13046 N Cave Creek Road, Phoenix, AZ 85022.
Since both Taryn and Jessica recommend The Tamale Store, I am heading over there first thing!
From Cacinda Maloney of Points and Travel:
My favorite place to buy them is El Bravo Mexican Food, I go to the one on 7th Street, but they now have a location at the Sky Harbor Airport too, El Bravo Sky Harbor! For 30 years, this restaurant has been making handmade tamales. What makes them so good? Well, for starters, they got the recipe from owner Lorraine Othon’s mother, who started the restaurant a long time ago. They use masa -a sweet, moist, and light dough. Then, there’s the meat – tender shredded beef or chicken. Finally, the sauces – red and green. But the green sauce is actually my favorite. They then cover the tamale with a gravy and melted cheese!
El Bravo Mexican Food, 8338 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85020.
A few other top picks for the best tamales in Phoenix:
- Molly’s Tamales – Award-winning tamale crafter with the classic green or red, but they also have spicy salmon – yum! (8806 N 43rd Ave, Glendale)
- Carolina’s Mexican Food – known for their homemade tortillas they also have phenomenal tamales, don’t miss the green chicken tamale. (2126 East Cactus Rd, Phoenix)
- Los Dos Molinos – their tamales are spicy, just how I like them! (1044 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix)
How to Make Tamales at Home:
Of course, if you can’t get to Phoenix for tamales (are you sure?) you can make them at home. I love this post from Delicious Days sharing her grandmother’s story and tamale recipe.
If I was to try to make tamales at home, I think I would do what Phoenix food blogger, Emily Dixon of One Lovely Life did, slow cooker beef tamale bowls! And Cooking with Curls has a great Instant Pot version for red chile tamales.
They look so easy, all the reward, none of the hard work. (I do want Ms. Lagunas to know that if she did invite me over for a tamalada, I would definitely do the work!)
How about you? Have you eaten tamales in Phoenix and have a favorite? Do share!