The tamale has been traced back to 1200-250 BC. Indio, Los Angeles and Oxnard all have Tamale Festivals, and while only a handful of cities host food fests for the holiday favorite, millions of Californians mix, bake or buy their Christmas tamales in weeks leading up to Dec. 25. Tamales are not that difficult to make, but it's a known fact that some make them better. And in California, when you see a line going out the door and down the street from a Mexican restaurant just before Christmas, it's a tip off that there's something cooking. Here are a few tamale shout-outs from a variety of tamale critics.
SAN FRANCISCO: Mijita – Ferry Building taqueria sells tamales in bulk throughout the holidays. Email to Kevin@mijitasf.com or by phone at 415-399-0814, . mijitasf.com
La Oaxaquena – Oaxacan style with chicken or turkey topped with Oaxacan mole, wrapped in a banana leaf.
La Espiga de Oro – 24th Street staple sells overstuffed, Guatemalen tamale with a whole chicken drumstick/drumette inside. Location: 2916 24th Street at Alabama
LOS ANGELES Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe, across from MacArthur Park 213-487-7474,
La Mascota Bakery on Whittier Blvd. in Boyle Heights, usually opens at and 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve, call: (323) 263-5513
Whittier Lolita's Tamales from Scratch Since 1957, call: 323-724-4222
Mom's Hot Tamales Cafe in Lincoln Heights, call: 323-226-9383
Rubalcava's Bakery in Placentia
Sarinana's Tamale Factory, Orange County's oldest Mexican restaurant, at 2218 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-8650
El Fortin (restaurantelfortin.com), sellers of mole negro tamal, a brick of soft masa wrapped in a banana leaf and made with chocolate. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also at 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120
Las Brisas de Apatzingan: Michoacan-style restaurant at 1524 S. Flower St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5584.
La Poblana Bakery 604 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 771-4465.
El Molino de Oro, 31886 Plaza Dr., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 489-9230.
Panaderia Oaxaquena Y Restaurant is located in a strip mall at 1275 South Santa Fe Avenue.
El Tejate on Mission in Escondido
Old Town – Las Quatro Milpas in the Barrio Logan