Lily and I decided to go on a tamale hunt and she searched the internet and came back with two names - both decidedly east of here. But since she needs practice driving anyway we headed out.
The first stop was Juanito's Tamales in East Los Angeles, not far from where the 710 crosses the 60. Not in a strip mall or commercial street, it's located among houses in a quiet neighborhood. Family run - very friendly people, they chatted and insisted we sample the 'champurrado,' a seasonal Mexican hot chocolate - not the cinnamon laced cocoa I expected but more like a sweet corn-thickened drink. They also had us sample a dense candied squash (name I don't remember) - unusual and quite delicious. Lily powered through a slab. Most importantly the tamales were amazingly good - rich creamy masa and delicious, flavorful sauces with meaty chunks. We tried a chicken with red sauce and a pork in green sauce; hard to say which was better. I had to go back and forth. Also a sweet corn tamal which rang with corn flavor. Between the place and the food, I recommend a trip to Juanito's for any authentic-experience seeking hound.
The other place we tried (there was a third actually not worth mentioning) came highly recommended from Chowhounders: Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe on 7th Street across from Macarthur Park. The food was tasty enough, but we found this place to be a little too boutique-y for us: each tamale represented a different countries or region, some were wrapped in banana leaves, and they were on the smallish side and not saucy at all. (I did like the Oaxacan black mole one, though.) The place is also a coffee bar and Latin store and art gallery.
BUT it is a half block away from LANGERS! Where I'd never been. Lily begged me not to (it's a tamale run for god's sake) but I had to go and get a number 19 sandwich. Dang that's good! This place lives up to the hype. My favorite sandwich since the number 21 at Banh Mi Che Cali and only ten times the price!
SO who can recommend some killer tamales? We are into authentic Mexican-style tamales more than fusion concept ones, and while I like Guatemalan and Nicaraguan style tamales Lily does not - so where are your favorites? We're not afraid to travel!