Tamales are a crucial addition to the dining table during the Christmas season for many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans; the tradition has also been adopted by those who have lived in the Southwest long enough to absorb culinary customs that have been part of the region since before Colorado became a territory. So every December, area eateries crank up the production of tamales to meet the holiday demand. Here are our eight favorites, in alphabetical order, with the winner of our Best Tamale this year in the number-one spot.
8) Carniceria La Sierra
3170 West Alameda Avenue
Turn into the parking lot when you see the mural of the cow slicing itself into steaks and head through the front door and past the aisles of groceries to the little diner in the back of the building. There you'll find a menu of tacos, enchiladas, soups and other traditional Mexican dishes. Stop for a combo plate and then grab your tamales to go. And if you hit the market on a Saturday, the butcher counter also makes big slabs of crackling-fresh chicharrones.
7) Curtis Park Creamery
908 30th Street
This place hasn't been an ice cream shop since the Rodriguez family purchased it in 1969 and turned it into a neighborhood burrito stop that also features excellent tamales — red or green. Everything's to-go, so grab a dozen or two and try not to dig in before you get them home to your family.
6) La Popular
2033 Lawrence Street
This little downtown eatery has been in business for more than sixty years, offering lunch and takeout items like baked goods, tortillas, salsas and tamales, of course. Choose red or green pork tamales, and don't forget an additional order of Christmas specials that come stuffed with raisins, nuts, coconut and pineapple. But order soon; as the name indicates, this place is muy popular.
5) Pochito's Tortilla Factory
4421 Tejon Street
If you want to put out a full Mexican spread for Christmas, Pochito's in Sunnyside is ready for you. In addition to tender, fluffy tamales, this place offers some of the best corn tortillas in town, and you can also pick up fresh tortilla chips, flour tortillas and blazing green chile (the thick, Denver-style sauce that's better for topping tamales and burritos than for eating straight). Desserts are taken care of, too, in the form of festive cookies and petite empanadas with several fruit fillings.
4) Tamale Kitchen
The many outlets of Tamale Kitchen around metro Denver are the area's most dependable stop for tamales — and they're only $7 a dozen, the best deal in town. You can also choose between red chile, spicy green chile or vegetarian; get a few quarts to add extra warmth to the holiday table.
3) Tamales by La Casita
3561 Tejon Street
This Highland favorite has turned out perfectly uniform bundles for the past forty years; choices are either red chile and pork or green chile and cheese. La Casita can handle the holiday crush, but even so supplies are tight as Christmas Eve approaches, so get your tamales soon and freeze them until the big day. For travelers in need of one last fix before heading out of town, there's also a branch inside Denver International Airport.
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2) Tamales Moreno
5301 West Mississippi Avenue, Lakewood
This tiny Lakewood joint is a little run-down, but the tamales are worth the stop. Cornhusk-wrapped packets of silky masa and fillings of succulent pork or chicken and green chile come hot enough to make your intestines melt. The tamales are available bundled into Ziploc bags by the half-dozen or dozen.
1) La Fuente
3023 West 44th Avenue
The inside of La Fuente is clean, if a little cluttered. A table full of Chihuahua figurines for sale sits squarely in the middle of the main dining area, alongside another table heaped with bags of tamales under a hot lamp. Choose from red or green — but get there early, because the tamales generally sell out.