As Winter approaches the City of Angels, it seemed like the perfect time to try out a new specialist focusing on the cuisine of Guerrero, Mexico, which features 3(!) types of Pozole (a Mexican Stew / Soup usually with Hominy) from that region. We had first heard about this from an Eater LA article and were excited to give it a try.
Founded by matriarch, Maria Elena Lorenzo and her family, Tamales Elena Y Antojitos features Afro-Mexican cooking from the Guerrero region according to Maria Elena’s daughter, also called Maria. Indeed it seems that Maria Elena’s children are all involved in helping run this restaurant, with daughters Maria and Judith learning the recipes from their mother growing up and are now the ones cooking most of the week, while Maria Elena checks in a few times to ensure the dishes are still on point.
On our first visit, we are greeted by a welcoming, warm person who turns out to be Maria. She recommends starting off with their…
Chilate (Rice, Cacao, Cinnamon, Piloncillo):
The Chilate is a drink that’s popular in the region of Guerrero where they grew up, according to Maria. It is lightly sweet, and tastes like a more robust version of Horchata. Wonderful.
With the dish in their restaurant’s name, Tamales Elena features a unique offering of both Corn Husk Tamales and Banana Leaf Tamales. This sounded wonderful! Maria recommends to us the Banana Leaf Tamales which she says are the style in Guerrero.
Hoja de Platano (Banana Leaf) Tamal: Chicken in Green Salsa:
These reminded me of the Yucatecan-style Tamales from La Flor de Yucatan a few years ago: They are flatter and wider (and wetter) than the more ubiquitous Tamales found around L.A. (with Corn Husk). The first bite is a moist, tender texture with stewed Chicken in Salsa Verde. It is lightly piquant, savory and delicious!
Hoja de Platano (Banana Leaf) Tamal: Pork in Red Salsa:
Their Pork in Salsa Roja (Red Salsa) has a touch more heat, and features tender morsels of Stewed Pork within, also just as tasty.
Hoja de Platano (Banana Leaf) Tamal: Cheese with Spinach:
Their Cheese with Spinach Tamal is also tasty, and a great vegetarian alternative. The Spinach and Cheese combination with the Banana Leaf Tamal works, and is probably the lightest of the 4 options.
Hoja de Platano (Banana Leaf) Tamal: Mushroom (Vegan):
The Mushroom Tamal was delicious, earthy and umami and vegan as well.
Pescadillas (Hard Shell Fish Tacos):
The Pescadillas are another specialty of the region, and these are small, Fried Tacos with Seasoned Bass Fish and Garlic. While it doesn’t reach the heights of LA’s best Fish Tacos, they are surprisingly addicting! Full of flavor, a nice Garlic note and the Bass is moist.
But what we are here for is their Guerrero-style Pozoles. Tamales Elena Y Antojitos features 3 types of Pozoles, Blanco (White), Verde (Green) and Rojo (Red).
The condiments that accompany each bowl of Pozole shows the care and focus that the Lorenzo family have towards their Guerrero-style Pozole. From the Shredded Cabbage, Radishes (all pristine), to the Avocado, Oregano & Chile Flakes, to the Queso Fresco that they source from a local specialist(!), and the Chiccharones (Fried Pork Skin) as an extra topping, it is impressive.
Pozole Blanco (White Pozole):
The Pozole Blanco is like their “mother sauce”: A Stew of Hominy, Pork and Chicken, this is the base Stew that the Green and Red Pozole variants use as a foundation. Taking a sip:
Soulful, comforting, warming up your insides as the weather gets chillier. It tastes like it was made with love and care, long cooked, and balanced. It is just what we need in a time like this.
Pozole Rojo (Red Pozole):
The Rojo is totally different and stunning! Maria uses Chile de Arbol, Guajillo Chilies and Chile Costeno, and while there’s some spiciness, it’s very manageable and imparts an extra layer of warmth and heat to each sip. It is more fragrant, spicier (slightly) and more complex than the Blanco. Loved this!
Pozole Verde (Green Pozole):
Then you get to the Pozole Verde (Green): You are hit with a gorgeous wave of Garlic, Tomatillo, Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds), Serrano Chilies and Chile de Arbol, which transforms the foundation of Stewed Chicken & Pork into something else entirely. This is even more delicious, and a little more savory-tart than the other versions. Probably my favorite of the 3, but that might change depending on the day.
Lengua Con Platano Macho (Stewed Beef Tongue with Fried Plantains):
The staff heartily recommended another Guerrero specialty on this visit, their Lengua Con Platano Macho (Stewed Beef Tongue with Fried Plantains). Taking a bite, it’s got a light tartness from the Tomatillos, a little bit of heat from the Serrano Chilies and succulent pieces of Stewed Beef Tongue. It’s stewed down to a melt-in-your-mouth quality. Outstanding!
The Fried Plantains are another highlight, along with a bite of their Black Beans (balanced, earthy, nicely seasoned).
Their Chilate on this visit was consistent with the 1st visit: A heartier version of Horchata, quite tasty and refreshing.
Mole Costeno (Chicken):
Another surprise recommendation from Maria was their Mole Costeno. She mentioned that Chile Costeno was sort of the representative Chili Pepper for the cooking in her area of Guerrero and it’s on full display in this special Mole Sauce. The Lorenzo family recipe uses Chocolate (as seen in the more popular versions of Mole Sauce), but the Chile Costeno adds a unique aromatic spicy quality that makes it stand out from Mole Poblano. The pairing with Chicken Thighs was great here and made for another enjoyable dish.
Quesataco / Tacos Dorados de Barbacoa (Shredded Beef Hard Shell Taco):
Perhaps to cater to the growing popularity of places like La Unica (with the excellent Quesataco (Taco Griddled with Cheese on the outside)), Tamales Elena has added Beef Barbacoa Tacos and you can get them griddled with Cheese as well. These were tasty, but a minor quibble is that they only offer Barbacoa de Res (Beef Barbacoa) instead of the more traditional Barbacoa de Borrego (Lamb). Still, they were a nice addition if you wanted to round out your meal, and a steal at only $2 / Taco.
Pescadilla (Hard Shell Fish Taco):
Their Pescadilla on this 2nd visit was as consistent as the first time: Tasty, moist, delicious Fish in a Hard Shell Taco.
The Picada is another regional specialty, a thicker Masa shell with Beans, Cheese, Onions and a Red or Green variety. The Roja is made with Guajillo Chile as the basis and the overall taste is OK. A bit dense, earthy, but filling and satisfying at the same time.
While we’re used to seeing Menudo be the more popular item around here, as mentioned earlier, Tamales Elena is more of a Pozole specialist with three distinct types. Their Menudo, however, is quite standout with its Beef Broth basis. It is mainly Tripe in this dish, along with Chile California. It is quite different from all 3 Pozoles that they feature, and one of the most enjoyable Menudo we’ve had in recent memory.
Cachete Taco (Beef Cheek Taco):
Their new Beef Cheef Taco is nice. Tender shredded bites of Stewed Beef Cheek, savory and delicious.
Hoja de Maiz (Corn Husk) Tamal - Pork in Red Salsa:
While their specialty is Guerrero Tamales (with Banana Leaf), they offer a variety of the more commonly found Corn Husk Tamales as well. Their Pork in Red Salsa turns out to be the only hiccup on the menu that we’ve tried: The Steamed Masa on the outside is slightly dry and crumbly, definitely not as enjoyable as their Banana Leaf version.
Their Menudo on this 3rd visit was even better than before: There’s a slight beefy funk, deeply warming and this time it was served with Pata (Stewed Beef Foot) in addition to the Tripe. The Tripe on this visit was a touch chewy compared to the first visit, but overall the excellent Broth and Stewed Beef Foot made it standout.
This is another regional specialty of Guerrero, Mexico, the Aporriadillo is made with a type of “Beef Jerky” scrambled with Eggs. I was bracing myself for a tough, chewy “American Beef Jerky” from the description, but it actually turned out to be quite nice: It tasted like a sort of Sun Dried Beef, reconstituted in Tomato and Tomatillo Sauce, so it was actually meaty and generally tender, and sauteed with Eggs, served with Rice and Beans and fresh, hot Tortillas.
Lengua Con Platano Macho (Stewed Beef Tongue with Fried Plantains):
On this 3rd visit, their Lengua (Stewed Beef Tongue) surpassed the excellent 1st visit: There’s the Serrano Chilies lending their delicate heat and fragrance, but the Stewed Tomatoes and Plantains in the Sauce itself lends a rounder, umami sweetness to the savory aspect. And the Stewed Beef Tongue itself is luscious. So good!
The Fried Plantains on the side are fantastic and a nice pairing here with the Rice and Beans.
But in the end, it’s about their outstanding Pozoles, so we finished off this visit with their Pozole Rojo and Verde to see how they both stood up.
Pozole Rojo (Red Pozole with Pork):
The Pork and Chicken Broth basis is still as beautiful as before: It is soul-warming, so pleasant and perfect for the cooler weather. The triple threat of Chile Costeno, Guajillo, and Chile de Arbol lends a gorgeous aromatic savoriness. Add in the Stewed Pork (or Chicken, your choice), Hominy and the condiments and you have perfection.
Pozole Verde (Green Pozole with Pork):
Then the Pozole Verde draws my attention: Once again, the uniqueness of Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds) adding a real fragrance in the background, Garlic, Tomatillo and Serrano Chilies make this stand out just as much in its own way.
They are both highlights on the menu and a must order!
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable new restaurants to open during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tamales Elena Y Antojitos shines in featuring the Afro-Mexican cuisine of Guerrero, Mexico.
All of the menu items taste like lovely dishes you would be enjoying at the home of a welcoming grandma, like slow-cooked Stews / Soups; things that warm you up and comfort you, especially their 3 types of Pozoles from Guerrero, Mexico. These are pure, soulful and warming, like a good hug. And that’s something we could all use right now.
Tamales Elena Y Antojitos
8101 Garfield Ave.
Bell Gardens, CA 90201
Tel: (562) 674-3043