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Coloradans take Mexican cuisine seriously and tamales are no exception—so it’s not surprising that Denver has some stellar spots to pick up the specialty. The dish—traditionally made from masa (corn dough) wrapped around a meat or vegetable filling and steamed in a corn husk—is believed to have originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 B.C.E. While tamales are particularly popular during the holiday season and for special occasions—when many Mexican families whip up batches together—they are devoured year-round on their own or, especially in Colorado, smothered in green chile. Here, we’ve rounded up six of our favorite restaurants to grab a tamale (or a couple dozen) in the Denver area.
At this unassuming spot in north Denver, owner Levi Luna and his family have served some of the city’s best tamales since 1997. While the prep and cooking can take nearly 20 hours, Pochitos still manages to make thousands of tamales daily from its small location. Order the standout green or red tamales stuffed with tender shredded pork (which are either sold as singles or by the dozen or half dozen) or pick up ingredients to make your own tamales, like the Pochitos’ pre-made masa. To fuel hectic work days, Pochitos sells ready-to-eat lunch meals with enchiladas, burritos, and of course, tamales. 4421 Tejon St.
In 1974, then state Senator Paul Sandoval opened Tamales By La Casita. Since then, it has become one of Denver’s most beloved restaurants and is still operated by Sandoval’s family. Every morning, the tamales are stuffed with a vegetarian green chile and cheese or a red chile and pork filling. The spot is so popular that it makes tamales wholesale for local retailers, and even opened a counter-service location at Denver International Airport’s Concourse C, where travelers can grab tamales, burritos, and quesadillas. But don’t just take our word for the quality: The tamales are such a favorite among locals that Tamales By La Casita prepares upwards of 15,000 per day. 3561 Tejon St.
Inside this 60-year-old LoDo bakery, stock up on Mexican pastry staples, such as cookies and sweet breads (most of which are 75 cents each), before perusing the menu of savory eats. Order either the milder, more traditional red tamales, or try the spicier green pork variation. During the month of December, La Popular also serves sweet tamales made with raisins, nuts, and pineapple, highly recommending customers to place orders early. The bakeshop also sells a lineup of tostadas, enchiladas, and burritos and its popular masa and corn husks if you want to try your hand at crafting your own tamales. 2033 Lawrence St.
Tamale Kitchen’s eight locations span from Northglenn to Highlands Ranch, giving Denverites plenty of opportunities to pick up its namesake specialty. The savory parcels, which are produced with a family recipe passed down from the owners’ late grandparents, come in five different varieties: extra spicy jalapeño and cheese, hot green pork, medium red pork, mild chicken, and vegetarian. We recommend the hot green pork option cloaked in Tamale Kitchen’s not-too-hot green chile. The food menu at large varies slightly between locations, but at the original Lakewood eatery, which opened in 1981, you can get bites like Frito pie—Frito chips topped with beef, beans, and green chile—or the savory sopaipillas stuffed with your choice of meat and beans. Multiple locations
Jesus Moreno, the late founder of Tamales Moreno, strongly believed in making tamales the traditional way, without any machinery to speed up the process. Today, his wife and daughter continue to ensure that his famous tamales are crafted by hand, ensuring a consistent quality over the years. Every component in the green and red pork tamales, from the masa to the chile sauces, is produced in house. Tamales Moreno has locations in Lakewood and Arvada, where you can pair plain or smothered tamales with a cold agua fresca or snag a dozen for later. 5159 W. 64th Ave., Arvada; 5301 W. Mississippi Ave., Lakewood
This cozy restaurant, which has become Commerce City’s favorite spot for spicy tamales, offers an impressive roster of 10 flavors. Beyond classic red and green chile variations, Tamales by Sara offers a selection of dessert tamales, including strawberry, cinnamon, or pineapple variations. While you’re there, don’t pass up a cup of menudo, a traditional and comforting Mexican soup made with tender chunks of cow’s stomach and hominy and served with a bread roll. But plan your trip wisely: Because of its small size and increasing popularity, seating is limited inside, so we recommend skipping the lunch rush or grabbing a bag of tamales to go. 6440 E. 72nd Place, Commerce City