Welcome to the beginning of what is no doubt a new tradition: The Tamale Trials, where myself, Mr. Diplomat and my sister endeavor to find the best tamales in Denver and then, the rest of the world. This round features seven tamales from four different places. Let’s meet our eligible bachelors.
Tamales Moreno – 5301 W. Mississippi Ave. Lakewood, CO 80226. We got a half dozen of mild red pork and a half dozen of the spicy green pork. Traditional, exceptionally soft tamales bursting with tender pork and lard.
La Fuente – 3023 W. 44th Ave. #1409, Denver, CO 80211. Sneakily tucked away at the intersection of 44th and Federal, La Fuente has the honor of being named in Food & Wine’s “The Best Burrito in all 50 States”. Check out the write-up below! They sell one kind of tamale- a red chile pork – frozen, prebagged and ready for you to nab. We grabbed a dozen.
Pochito’s Tortilla Factory – 4421 Tejon St. Denver, CO 80211. A hop skip and a jump away down 44th Ave, Pochito’s won our heart for its vibe and selection. They have three kinds of tamales; a green chile cheese, green chile pork and a red chile pork. We grabbed a half dozen of each. We also nabbed bonus tortillas because they just looked so good – and they were.
Tradiciones Andinas – The only prepackaged contestant, these are actually Salvadorian-style tamales that I located in a local Indian grocer of all places. 4 bucks for the dozen makes these the best deal of the bunch! They were manufactured in El Salvador and have a decidedly more Salvadorian vibe than the rest of the tamale contestants, which are closer to traditionally Mexican.
Best red tamale – It’s tough to declare a winner here. We had to really compare and contrast several times – you know, for science. Pochitos wins in the category of masa and pork tenderness. But ultimately we had to declare the La Fuente red chile pork the winner for having the best filling to masa balance and the best spice and flavor profile.
Best green tamale – The Pochito’s Green Chile Pork was declared the easy winner in this category. To be honest, it was one of the greatest tamales I’ve ever had. As the debate broke down the specifics, we determined that the tender pork in the Tamales Moreno spicy green may have been slightly superior; but the Pochitos won for size, masa / filling ratio, and the unbelievably light and fluffy masa. My excitement was too great and I didn’t get a nice cross section shot of them like I did with The Red Bracket; for that I apologize.
Best Spicy Tamale – In many ways there was only one contender in this category- none of the other entrants were particularly hot. But the spicy green pork from Tamales Moreno deserves to be called out for its perfection of fiery chile and pork. They were by no means over-the-top hot, (Hatch / Pueblo Green Chiles rarely are) but they achieved just that perfect little spiciness level. Bonus points for the unbelievably tender pork. You can tell it was cooked along with the green chile for the filling; the whole thing is the perfect marriage of ingredients.
Best masa – The winner of this category had to be Pochitos. Slightly sweet; light and airy but still melt-in-your mouth. It had that bright, fresh taste that just can’t be replicated any way except by making the masa yourself. Every time we compared quality among any of the tamales, someone was bound to say “But- the Pochitos one had the best masa!” Good news for the at-home tamale chef: they sell it by the pound at their store. Beats the packaged stuff at the grocery store by a mile.
Most Unique Tamale -I would be remiss if I didn’t at least give a mention to The Tradiciones Andinas Tamal de Elote. These are pretty unique in the world of frozen, prepackaged tamales- I haven’t found any others like them and the closest ones to their type have come from Salvadorian restaurants. While most Salvadorian tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, these ones are in corn husks (like we typically recognize in the United States) – but the filling is decidedly more Salvadorian. They are dense and slightly sweet with no meat- only masa. They aren’t spicy and are milder in flavor than their Mexican counterparts and are less greasy on account of not containing lard!
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