Tamales are a New Mexico Christmas tradition. Photograph courtesy of NMTD.
MANY YEARS AGO, I WROTE a book about tamales. For months, my kitchen windows were fogged from the tamalera bubbling on the stove. I remember it as the year all my pants mysteriously shrank, but my friends insist it was more like a long series of dinner parties. The fillings were never the same, but there was always the joy of digging into a hot, homemade tamale. This year, I found an easier way.
Abraham’s Tiendita, Las Vegas
Abraham Garcia’s Tiendita is a spinoff of his father’s 45-year-old restaurant, El Rialto, just off the historic plaza. Abraham’s offers a to-go menu of norteño favorites, including Frito pies, stuffed sopaipillas, and chicharrón burritos. The red chile is especially good. Quotable: “We use powder and coarse-ground caribe for our red chile,” Garcia says. “It’s made with a roux, so it’s creamy.” Try this: Pick up your red-chile-and-pork tamales chilled or frozen ($25 per dozen), then order a hot green-chile-and-cheese or some calabacitas for nibbling as you wander the plaza. Abraham's Tiendita, 151 Bridge St., Las Vegas; 505-425-0930
Alicia’s Tortilleria, Santa Fe
With a full menu of New Mexican food, including three kinds of tortillas and three types of tamales ($15 per dozen), this place moves mountains of masa. Alicia’s most popular bundles cradle fillings of pork with red or green chile, but also tamales dulces—sweet tamales made with pineapple, pecans, and a hint of anise. Quotable: “My mom grew up with pecan sweet tamales,” says Alicia Saenz, daughter of the eponymous owner. “It was my dad’s idea to add the pineapple. It turned out really good!” Try this: Tamales dulces for a sweet holiday surprise. Alicia's Tortilleria, 1314 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe; 505-438-9545
Mujeres en Acción, Albuquerque
Founded as a project to provide business skills and income to immigrant women, Mujeres en Acción owes its success to fluffy, fat tamales ($16–$19 per dozen), available in red-chile-and-pork, green-chile-and-chicken, and three vegetarian options, through Christmas Eve. Quotable: “It’s an awesome opportunity to support a company that teaches a skill and helps lift women up,” says Rhian Batson, the purchaser at La Montañita Co-op, which stocks the meat-free versions. Try this: Zucchini-and-mushroom, a vegan combo you won’t find elsewhere. Mujeres en Acción, 1701 Broadway Blvd. SE, Albuquerque; 505-243-5584
Roberto’s Mexican Food, Las Cruces
If the name Roberto’s rings a bell, it’s probably because for more than 30 years owner Robert Estrada made a show of cooking the world’s largest enchilada at the Whole Enchilada Fiesta in Las Cruces. Estrada retired from giant enchiladas in 2015, but his restaurant still sells folded envelopes of red-chile-and-pork and green-chile-and-cheese tamales ($12 per dozen), Monday through Saturday. Quotable: “They’re just like homemade,” says Yvette Estrada, Robert’s daughter. “I don’t think I could ever get sick of them.” Try this: Green-chile-and-chicken tamales ($12 per dozen), available only Friday and Saturday mornings. Roberto's Mexican Food, 908 E. Amador Ave., Las Cruces; 575-523-1851
Teresa’s Tamales, Cleveland
The forested beauty of the Mora Valley might bedazzle you into missing this roadside spot, with its diminutive dining room, national reputation, and concise menu (try the beans and red). Call ahead for more than a dozen or to order the calabacitas or green-chile-and-chicken, both $20 per dozen. Quotable: “They’re the best tamales you’ve ever eaten, I guarantee it,” says owner Theresa Olivas, who’s been making them for 30 years. Try this: Red-chile-and-pork tamales ($18.50 per dozen) and a quart of red ($7.50) or green ($10.50) chile. Teresa's Tamales, 3296 NM 518, Cleveland; 575-387-2754