Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taco Tuesday: Tamales Elena in Watts is a Beef Head of the Game

I guess it never occurred to me that I should order tacos from Tamales Elena, but now that I think about it I'm feeling a little dumb. I wrote about Tamales Elena some years ago while running around in Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods and thought their tamales were nice. They make typical corn husk tamales for $1 a pop that are geared towards locals--when not ordering tamales folks are grabbing carne asada burritos. That's kind of how it goes for this talented Guerreran family. Did I mention that this is the best family of Mexican cooks in town? They are--unless someone can show me better. I will get into that on a later date, on how a birthday party pozole and mole spread was one of the best traditional Mexican meals I've ever had. 

Their real tamales are large, flat, rectangular packages of southern Mexican comfort, but they'd never fly on Wilmington and 110th St., where their truck is parked. There was practically a riot when they decided to ask regulars to pay the full $12 for a dozen tamales--so, skinny, corn husk tamales it shall remain. There's no market here for the real cooking this family can do. 

On a recent visit, Elena's daughter Teresa informed me that they were out of tamales, but I wasn't about to have a carne asada burrito--no mames! I went with the tacos and I'm still kicking myself for not having known about the best lip, tongue, and cheek tacos in LA.


Elena was trying out a burnt chile de arbol salsa in vegetable oil on the day I was there--this is one of my favorite salsas for its smoky and nutty flavors.

Their barbacoa(lamb) is stewed in a rich broth of costeno chiles and Mexican spices, and I could actually just have 3 or 4 of these and call it a day.They could make have a thriving barbacoa business if they wanted.

I started with the barbacoa, cachetes (steamed beef cheeks), and labios (beef lips)--you're not going to find many beef lip tacos in LA--and right away I realized something special was going on here. Many  vendors around town are doing steamed tongue alongside their tacos de fritanga(various meats fried in a stainless steel comal), and you can rarely go wrong with tongue, but no one has stood out. Cheeks are rare, and lips are less common. The cheeks and lips are exceptionally seasoned, wet, and tender.  The tortillas come from a good tortilleria, which makes a complete package--literally.      

At this point I wouldn't think of leaving without having the tongue which was killer. The difference here is the extra care Elena and her daughters take in selecting quality meats--these cuts aren't regarded as afterthoughts. The tongue is cut in rough chunks, and the added surface area gives off a longer finish.

This is the best stop in town for tongue, lips, and cheeks, and the stewed barbacoa is some fine home cooking. The tamales are great too, and this family is up every morning around 4AM steaming them over a mesquite fire. On weekends they also happen to make one of the best menudos in Los Angeles. This is top notch Guerreran tradition; on the long drive back home you'll curse every other beef head cut tacos you've wasted your time on before this day.             

Tamales Elena
7 days a week from 7AM to around 5PM
Closed every first Monday of the month


LV said...

Wow, these tacos look so good! This is now on my list of places to try.

CJ - Food Stories said...

Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can't wait to see what your next post will be!

Taco Maven said...

Good to know! Tamales are nice, but TACOS RULE!