Our Favorite Tamales in Denver
Rich Schneider, a man who knows his masa, weighs in on his favorite tamales in Denver (and so do we).
It’s believed that tamales were first eaten in Mesoamerica between seven and ten thousand years ago. The name comes from Nahuatl word “tamal” or “tamalli” used by the Aztecs, which means “wrapped”. The dish—a mixture of masa corn dough and filling that’s enclosed in a banana leaf or corn husk and then steamed—has since become part of regional Mexican and Latin American cuisines. Recipes are often passed down for generations.
But it’s not an easy dish to make. It takes time (and lots of it) to prepare the different fillings, the masa, and to assemble the whole tamal. So while some might try their own hand at creating tamales at home, this dish is something well worth getting from practiced hands.
We spoke to Rich Schneider of Raquelitas Tortillas to hear his recommendations on the best places to buy tamales in and around Denver. Raquelitas has been manufacturing tortillas, chips, and masa since 1979.
Tamales really are a labor of love, he says. And that’s his number one qualifier for each of the restaurants he picked for this list.
Señor Ric’s (Aurora)
“It’s owned by a guy named Jeff Eaton. His roots in Mexican food go way, way back. He buys the masa for his tamales from me. What makes his tamales unique is that they’re almost the size of a burrito. They’re huge! He’s been buying our masa for a long time—I mean decades. I ordered two the first time. I couldn’t eat them both! He handmakes them, they have plenty of filling, and they just taste good.”
Table Mountain Grill & Cantina (inside Table Mountain Inn, Golden)
“Their chef comes down and gets masa from us too. He makes a variety of different tamales and we have conversations about them. Based on that conversation, you know he’s making some amazing food. He makes it out of heart and passion, not out of obligation. He’s constantly moving ingredients around.”
Tamales by La Casita (Denver)
“They do an amazing job. I think they’ve got one or two varieties. They’ve been doing it a long time, and they’re really, really good at it. It’s amazingly consistent. They make tamales out of passion as well. They’re carrying on a tradition. If you loved them 20 years ago, you’re still going to love them today. They’re almost a Denver-style tamale because they’ve been here so long. They’ve really become the gold standard.”
La Popular (Denver)
“They used to be part of our business many decades ago. They’re not buying their masa; they’re buying their corn and cooking and processing it there, and making their own chile. Danny De La Torre, he has spent his life—probably since he was 11 years old—making tamales. He grew up in the industry. He makes a very good tamale that has more filling than masa. They have big chunks of pork in there. He’s just making it right. It’s something he loves to make.”
We also spoke to a couple of DiningOut staffers who just couldn’t keep their favorite tamalerías to themselves. Gaby Reyes, restaurant coordinator at DiningOut and founder and CEO of Feed Me Events, doesn’t mince words when she talks tamales. Her family hails from Guadalajara and their tamales are “what people typically think of when tamal is mentioned,” she says, “cooked in a corn husk.”
“Que Bueno Suerte! changed my life! I had no idea there were different tamales. I had been raised with the dry ones that my family makes. Turns out in the Yucatan, they make them in banana leaves that make them all moist!”
And DiningOut’s editor in chief, Amanda Faison, notes you can get excellent vegan tamales outside of the Denver area.
La Cocina de Luz (Telluride)
“If you’re willing to make the trek, you’ll find some of the state’s best tamales at La Cocina de Luz. And get this: they’re vegan. Lucas Price and his team of cooks spent many R&D hours perfecting the dish, ultimately settling on Earth Balance’s vegan butter as a stand-in for traditional lard in the masa de harina, water, and salt mixture. The tamales are then filled with onion, garlic, zucchini, green chile, and fresh oregano. The entree comes with two sides—make one of them Anasazi beans sourced from Dove Creek, Colorado.”
Think of tamales like a song you know, Schneider adds. While you may know the recorded version, “every performance is going to be a little different. Food is very much like that. At least it can be…. It almost seems like the recipes for some are constantly evolving.”
Talk to us! Email us with your fave spot for tamales in Denver and beyond at firstname.lastname@example.org.