Looking for Christmas tamales in Pierce County? This Tacoma family restaurant will make 15,000
Making Christmas tamales together is a tradition spanning generations for some families.
Except this year gathering to make those tamales becomes so much more complicated with pandemic concerns.
That’s likely why Palmira Mendoza Martinez has seen an uptick in tamales orders this year at her family’s Los Tamales Mexican Restaurant, my favorite restaurant in Tacoma for tamales and a broad menu of taqueria eats.
They have tamales available for Christmas pre-order through December 22, which you can order by phone (a down payment to hold an order is required).
“Right now, we’re getting a lot of orders, more than I’ve seen before,” said Mendoza Martinez.
Could it be because families are skipping the tamal-making parties?
Might be, she said. “For two to three people, instead of a larger group, to make tamales, it’s a lot of work.”
She added, “I’m not sure how this year is going to work for gatherings with Christmas, I’m just not sure, but we’re getting ready for a lot of tamales orders.” She runs the restaurant with family. Her parents, Alma and Efren Mendoza, founded the two neighboring Mexican food businesses in the same East Tacoma strip mall (more on that below).
Tamales orders have increased every year since Los Tamales opened in 2016 in East Tacoma along a stretch that holds Tacoma’s top spots for tacos — you must visit Taqueria El Grande, Taqueria El Rinconsito, El Super Taco Bas, Los Tamales and Tacos Guaymas or you can’t call yourself a taco fiend in Tacoma.
Last year, Mendoza Martinez and her family made about 13,000 tamales, which was a big leap from the taqueria’s 2018 orders. This year, they’re prepping for at least 15,000.
They have grown a reputation for providing the best selection and execution of tamales, ever since they started selling them along with handmade tortillas a decade ago at their grocery store next door, El Jalapeno.
And, as with everything, the pandemic has changed how they do everything at Los Tamales. In addition to the grocery store next door that the family operates, they have a wholesale tortilleria on the other side that supplies their grocery store with tortillas. Because that space is not open to the public and has the luxury of a well-spaced kitchen, the family has temporarily moved some of the tamales assembly over to that space.
“We did that because of the coronavirus,” said Mendoza Martinez. “We didn’t want to be so close together. There’s no room there in the kitchen (at Los Tamales). There’s more big and open spaces next door. We’re blessed we have the space next door. It has everything that the health department requires.”
So they start the cooking process in the kitchen at Los Tamales, assemble next door at their Aztec Tortilleria, and then use the refrigerator space at Los Tamales for storage. They have one refrigeration unit devoted to holding only tamales at Los Tamales.
MAKING TAMALES AT LOS TAMALES
The process of making tamales is laborious. There are so many steps, it’s impossible to list them succinctly. Meats, sauces, vegetables, cheese and seasonings are prepped from scratch and by hand at Los Tamales, then cooled. The masa dough is prepped by hand, then cooled. Then there’s the assembly of 15,000 tamales.
The choices for tamales at Los Tamales are: pork in red sauce, chicken in green sauce, chicken in red sauce, rajas with peppers and cheese, beef and a sweet elote. They’re priced $20 a dozen, but here’s a tip for you.
On Mondays through December, diners can get a bargain with $15 for a dozen tamales (but the deal is only good for chicken and pork tamales on Mondays).
The restaurant uses color-coded paper to help diners identify the tamales at home. Here’s the key:
GOLD: Pork in red sauce
SILVER: Chicken in red sauce
WHITE: Chicken in green sauce
BROWN: Beef tamales
WHITE AND SILVER PAPER: Rajas, peppers and cheese
ELOTES: Elotes don’t come in a different wrap, but they’re easily identified by their shape and size; they’re slightly smaller than the meat-or-cheese-filled tamales.
Order tamales by Sunday for pickup by Christmas Eve. The restaurant will close at 3 p.m. Christmas Eve, December 24, and will be closed on Christmas Day.
Want masa? The restaurant sells its handmade masa dough in five-pound orders. Call the restaurant for details.
GET TO KNOW THE MENU AT LOS TAMALES
The East Tacoma restaurant, like so many around town, has proved itself scrappy in this pandemic. “At the beginning, we were worried when they said only to-go. We closed for two weeks, but after that, they said another month, so we were like, ‘we have to get back and then after that, it took a month in order for us to get new ideas.’”
Those new ideas include trendy regional Mexican foods, such as quesabirria tacos and consomme.
The restaurant went viral on social media this summer for its pizza-coa, a companion to the restaurant’s quesabirria tacos. The pizza-coa comes filled with beef and cheese, with a crunchy exterior and fat, luscious filling.
Beyond those new menu items, the restaurant offers a wide range of taqueria eats with outstanding execution. Next door, find a grocery store stocked with the tortillas made next door at the tortilleria that the family owns, Tortilleria Azteca.
The family hopes to scale bigger this year. They’re pursuing licensing to start selling their tamales to restaurants and stores. Watch for that in 2021.
LOS TAMALES MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Where: 1018 72nd St E, Tacoma; 253-301-0849
Order Christmas tamales by: December 22
Pickup: Through 3 p.m. December 24
Tamales flavors: pork in red sauce, chicken in red sauce, chicken in green sauce, rajas with peppers and cheese, beef and sweet elotes.
Priced: $20 a dozen
Special deal: $15 a dozen on Mondays through January