Where to Eat Tamales in Chicago

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Two tamales, one split in half, with two cups of green salsa, on a square bamboo plate Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

These bundles of masa and meat will keep you going from morning till night

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Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

If you find yourself in Chicago, chances are that tamales are a stone’s throw away from your location. The energy-packed bundles of masa and meat, wrapped in leaves and cooked in steam, are as much an everyday early breakfast catered from a street vendor and paired with thick, sweet corn-based drinks like atole or champurrado as they are a festive meal that gathers families in their complex preparation.

As is the case with many of Mexico’s most iconic dishes, modern-day tamales are a product of a collision of worlds and belief systems. Their diversity (there are more than 500 documented varieties in Mexico alone) speaks to the accessibility of ingredients, techniques, tools, traditions, and personal touch: there is only one best abuelita recipe for tamales, and every family has it.

When it comes to tamales in the city, Chicagoans are lucky. There’s a vast selection of choices here, from uchepos and corundas from Michoacán, the spicy bean tamal from Guerrero, and Oaxacan and Central American variations, plus an array of dishes with similar executions hailing from South America to the Caribbean. With Día de la Candelaria (February 2) approaching, now is the perfect time to enjoy one (or many) tamales in Chicago.

As of January 3, the city has mandated that those ages 5 and up be fully vaccinated and masked at public places indoors while not actively eating or drinking. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

7027 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60626

In her small Pueblan hometown San Juan Pilcaya, María Mozo was a cocinera tradicional (traditional cook), hand-picked by her community to prepare large-scale meals during festivals. At her restaurant in Chicago, she has created a menu that’s a collection of everyday food and celebratory dishes. The menu features the staple green and red pork tamales and a couple of regional specialties. Try the tamales cenizos, a flat and square delicacy that has been leveraging charcoal as an ingredient for centuries, way before it became hip. The flat, fragrant bundle is perfect for sopping up your mole. El Sabor Poblano also serves bean tamales stuffed with beans and mole, and extraordinarily fluffy corn tamales, which you could very well enjoy as dessert. 

7024 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60626

This destination for freshly made tamales across the street from El Sabor Poblano has catered to the Rogers Park community since 2007, and bills itself as “the best of Guerrero,” though the meny also features a few variations from different Mexican regions. Order one, six, or a dozen of the green or red salsa tamales with a choice of pork or chicken. Vegetarian options include beans with cheese and jalapeño with cheese; there are also strawberry and pineapple for dessert. Other interesting choices include the regional oaxaqueño (flatter and smoother than their counterparts and perfumed by the banana leaves they are wrapped in) and the corundas, which hail from the state of Michoacán and are used as a vehicle for sauces or moles.

5004 N Sheridan Rd

Chicago, IL 60640

Kie-Gol-Lanee (“old stone” in the Zapotec dialect) is the phonetic spelling of Santa María Quiegolani, a small Oaxacan village in the Sierra Sur region. This is where most of the team behind this two-time Bib Gourmand Award-winning eatery grew up and learned to cook from recipes passed down through generations. The menu includes Oaxacan-style red or green tamales cooked in banana leaves, which gives them a unique perfume. The vegetarian options include cheese and jalapeño tamales and a variation featuring mushrooms in a yellow mole. It is easy to get distracted by the tlayudas on the menu or the seasonally available grasshoppers, but the tamales are a solid choice. Pair them with a chocolate champurrado, a delicious thick drink made with corn masa.

4959 N Kedzie Ave

Chicago, IL 60625

It is easy to find similarities between a few Guatemalan dishes and those of southeastern Mexico.

Complex sauces like moles or recados, atoles, and ingredients like corn, beans, plantains, chiles, and tomatillos, speak to both a shared pre-Columbian territory and a colonial experience under Spanish rule. And although these cuisines may live side by side on the map and on this Albany Park establishment’s menu, they are different.

Take the tamales, for example. Guatemalan-style chuchitos, a corn masa variety, are smoother, denser, and even drier than their Mexican counterparts. The meat is not diced or pulled, and instead, you will find they are stuffed with a whole chicken leg. But Xecul’s patrons rave about the rice tamales. Made with a ground rice masa, a very mild red sauce, pimento, olives, and raisins, this regional delicacy is wrapped in banana leaves. Their consistency is almost gelatin-like. The plate might at first be reminiscent of its Oaxacan cousin, but once you unwrap one, you will realize the similarity is only in presentation.

A white plate with a tamale wrapped in a corn leaf and topped tomato sauce and shredded cheese Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

3661 N Elston Ave

Chicago, IL 60618

Chef Eufemia López gifts Chicago with the flavors of Palmar Chico, a small village in the state of México, where Otomí culture still prevails. Her dishes include a red and green mole and what in her town is known as chimpa, a mole that incorporates green and red chiles. Tamales here are what’s for dessert. The chocolate, flourless tamal is rich and may remind you of molten lava cake.

3018 N Cicero Ave

Chicago, IL 60641

This is not a destination to enjoy only tamales: patrons of this Belmont-Cragin establishment rave about the uchepos gratinados. These irresistible tamales are traditional of the state of Michoacán and are made with tender corn ears. Sol de México’s chef serves them au gratin with a delicate chile chilaca sauce. 

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2567 N Cicero Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

Traditional Mexican green and red tamales stuffed with pork or chicken and sweet options including strawberry and pineapple live alongside Salvadoran pupusas at La Bendición (“the blessing”). The line is out the door, and the fluffy, steamy tamales run out early, so it’s best to call ahead to reserve your favorites. The restaurant opens at 5 a.m. on weekdays and at 4 a.m. on weekends.

4213 W North Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

Locals flock to this West Humboldt Park establishment to place their party orders. Behind the counter, the tamales are steamed in pots reminiscent of those pushed in carts by street vendors in Mexico. If you want a breakfast that packs a punch, have some tamales on your way to work: Chilo y Chela opens at 6 a.m. Try the rajas con queso tamales (jalapeño and cheese), which are flavorful and not too spicy. Unique atole options such as the eggnog-like rompope are available on the weekends.

1209 N Paulina St

Chicago, IL 60622

For more than 20 years, Claudio Velez has fed hungry revelers at bars around town from his red cooler full of tamales and his signature green salsa. Being constantly on the move and keeping his location a secret eventually turned Velez into a Chicago legend, to the point that a Twitter account was created to track his sightings. He is currently operating out of Bangers & Lace in Wicker Park. But it you don’t want to wait to try to catch him at a bar or if you’d like to hire him to cater an event, you can order via his online shop.

A man holding a red cooler of tamales in black shirt and shorts. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

In the alley behind Frontera Grill, 443 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60654

Bar Sótano pays homage to the Yucatecan chachawa with its mushroom “pibil” corn tamal, featuring roasted tomato-habanero salsa, pickled onions, and micro epazote. The banana-wrapped delicacy is baked to achieve a crispy texture.

814 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Well known for her use of olive oil instead of lard in her masa, and for her large assortment of vegan options, including lentils, squash, spinach, peppers and soy, Yvolina’s owner Ernestina Hernández also uses the menu to show off her mole prowess. Yvolina’s tamales are available in corn husks and banana leaves, and the options available change often. Considering the ingredients Hernández uses and the fact that the tamales are served with salsa on top, this eatery might not be for the tamal purist.

1820 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Launched during the pandemic by 5 Rabanitos owner Alfonso Sotelo, Fiesta Tamalería el Barrio reflects the Tompolobampo and Xoco alum’s love for his home state of Guerrero in its menu. The fluffy and airy tamales have plenty of pulled meat in every forkful, and patrons can enjoy regional options like the spicy bean tamales, a Guerrero favorite. The atole choices feature difficult-to-find flavors, such as guava, coconut, and sweet potato, which are clear giveaways of the chef’s regional flair.

1725 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Hailing from the state of Michoacán, the epicenter of carnitas know-how, Inocencio Carbajal opened Carnitas Uruapan in 1975. Here, patrons can order either one taco or a whole pound (or many) and choose from different pork cuts. Traditional cactus salad, pickled chilis, chicharrón, and brain quesadillas are also available. Recently, Michoacano-style tamales, known as corundas made with two different masa types and stuffed with either queso fresco or swiss chard, were added to the menu. The dense tamales which can also be served as a vehicle for moles or other dishes are served with chile de árbol sauce, sour cream, and cotija cheese.

1900-1998, W 21st Pl

Chicago, IL 60608

Rain, shine, or snow, there’s always a long line at the Tamale Lady cart. A QR code on the cart directs customers to the menu, and her name and logo on it makes it clearly recognizable among others who, wanting to capitalize on her word of mouth, stand around her. The Tamale Lady offers corn husk and Oaxacan tamales wrapped in banana leaves. The filling choices include pork and chicken in green salsa, pork in red salsa, bean tamales, and a couple of sweet options. Do not forget to pair your bounty with champurrado. Find her early. She is out at 7 a.m. and sells out quickly.

5200 S Archer Ave Suite 8

Chicago, IL 60632

Masa is king at Xocome Antojería, and the menu at this restaurant is a shrine to Vitamin T (tacos, tortas, tamales, and so on). Famous for their tlacoyos, small oval-shaped masa patties stuffed with beans and topped with a variety of ingredients, this Archer Heights spot also sells airy tamales, and champurrado that are not to be missed.

7242 S Western Ave

Chicago, IL 60636

Mexico City natives would agree that everything tastes better stuffed inside a bolillo roll, including tamales. The carb redundancy is found in the popular streetside breakfast torta de tamal, also known as “guajolota,” in which a roll, is stuffed with the patron’s tamal of choice. Fat Johnnie’s serves a local variation known as the Mother-In-Law, which features chili-covered hot tamales instead of a sausage in a poppy seed hot dog bun. Smaller than its Mexican counterparts, the mass-produced hot tamale (known as such in the singular in the Southern vernacular; the others are known as “tamal” in Spanish) is made from cornmeal, which gives it a gritty texture. 

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In her small Pueblan hometown San Juan Pilcaya, María Mozo was a cocinera tradicional (traditional cook), hand-picked by her community to prepare large-scale meals during festivals. At her restaurant in Chicago, she has created a menu that’s a collection of everyday food and celebratory dishes. The menu features the staple green and red pork tamales and a couple of regional specialties. Try the tamales cenizos, a flat and square delicacy that has been leveraging charcoal as an ingredient for centuries, way before it became hip. The flat, fragrant bundle is perfect for sopping up your mole. El Sabor Poblano also serves bean tamales stuffed with beans and mole, and extraordinarily fluffy corn tamales, which you could very well enjoy as dessert. 

7027 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60626

This destination for freshly made tamales across the street from El Sabor Poblano has catered to the Rogers Park community since 2007, and bills itself as “the best of Guerrero,” though the meny also features a few variations from different Mexican regions. Order one, six, or a dozen of the green or red salsa tamales with a choice of pork or chicken. Vegetarian options include beans with cheese and jalapeño with cheese; there are also strawberry and pineapple for dessert. Other interesting choices include the regional oaxaqueño (flatter and smoother than their counterparts and perfumed by the banana leaves they are wrapped in) and the corundas, which hail from the state of Michoacán and are used as a vehicle for sauces or moles.

7024 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60626

Kie-Gol-Lanee (“old stone” in the Zapotec dialect) is the phonetic spelling of Santa María Quiegolani, a small Oaxacan village in the Sierra Sur region. This is where most of the team behind this two-time Bib Gourmand Award-winning eatery grew up and learned to cook from recipes passed down through generations. The menu includes Oaxacan-style red or green tamales cooked in banana leaves, which gives them a unique perfume. The vegetarian options include cheese and jalapeño tamales and a variation featuring mushrooms in a yellow mole. It is easy to get distracted by the tlayudas on the menu or the seasonally available grasshoppers, but the tamales are a solid choice. Pair them with a chocolate champurrado, a delicious thick drink made with corn masa.

5004 N Sheridan Rd

Chicago, IL 60640

A white plate with a tamale wrapped in a corn leaf and topped tomato sauce and shredded cheese Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

It is easy to find similarities between a few Guatemalan dishes and those of southeastern Mexico.

Complex sauces like moles or recados, atoles, and ingredients like corn, beans, plantains, chiles, and tomatillos, speak to both a shared pre-Columbian territory and a colonial experience under Spanish rule. And although these cuisines may live side by side on the map and on this Albany Park establishment’s menu, they are different.

Take the tamales, for example. Guatemalan-style chuchitos, a corn masa variety, are smoother, denser, and even drier than their Mexican counterparts. The meat is not diced or pulled, and instead, you will find they are stuffed with a whole chicken leg. But Xecul’s patrons rave about the rice tamales. Made with a ground rice masa, a very mild red sauce, pimento, olives, and raisins, this regional delicacy is wrapped in banana leaves. Their consistency is almost gelatin-like. The plate might at first be reminiscent of its Oaxacan cousin, but once you unwrap one, you will realize the similarity is only in presentation.

4959 N Kedzie Ave

Chicago, IL 60625

Chef Eufemia López gifts Chicago with the flavors of Palmar Chico, a small village in the state of México, where Otomí culture still prevails. Her dishes include a red and green mole and what in her town is known as chimpa, a mole that incorporates green and red chiles. Tamales here are what’s for dessert. The chocolate, flourless tamal is rich and may remind you of molten lava cake.

3661 N Elston Ave

Chicago, IL 60618

This is not a destination to enjoy only tamales: patrons of this Belmont-Cragin establishment rave about the uchepos gratinados. These irresistible tamales are traditional of the state of Michoacán and are made with tender corn ears. Sol de México’s chef serves them au gratin with a delicate chile chilaca sauce. 

3018 N Cicero Ave

Chicago, IL 60641

Traditional Mexican green and red tamales stuffed with pork or chicken and sweet options including strawberry and pineapple live alongside Salvadoran pupusas at La Bendición (“the blessing”). The line is out the door, and the fluffy, steamy tamales run out early, so it’s best to call ahead to reserve your favorites. The restaurant opens at 5 a.m. on weekdays and at 4 a.m. on weekends.

2567 N Cicero Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

Locals flock to this West Humboldt Park establishment to place their party orders. Behind the counter, the tamales are steamed in pots reminiscent of those pushed in carts by street vendors in Mexico. If you want a breakfast that packs a punch, have some tamales on your way to work: Chilo y Chela opens at 6 a.m. Try the rajas con queso tamales (jalapeño and cheese), which are flavorful and not too spicy. Unique atole options such as the eggnog-like rompope are available on the weekends.

4213 W North Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

A man holding a red cooler of tamales in black shirt and shorts. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

For more than 20 years, Claudio Velez has fed hungry revelers at bars around town from his red cooler full of tamales and his signature green salsa. Being constantly on the move and keeping his location a secret eventually turned Velez into a Chicago legend, to the point that a Twitter account was created to track his sightings. He is currently operating out of Bangers & Lace in Wicker Park. But it you don’t want to wait to try to catch him at a bar or if you’d like to hire him to cater an event, you can order via his online shop.

1209 N Paulina St

Chicago, IL 60622

Bar Sótano pays homage to the Yucatecan chachawa with its mushroom “pibil” corn tamal, featuring roasted tomato-habanero salsa, pickled onions, and micro epazote. The banana-wrapped delicacy is baked to achieve a crispy texture.

In the alley behind Frontera Grill, 443 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60654

Well known for her use of olive oil instead of lard in her masa, and for her large assortment of vegan options, including lentils, squash, spinach, peppers and soy, Yvolina’s owner Ernestina Hernández also uses the menu to show off her mole prowess. Yvolina’s tamales are available in corn husks and banana leaves, and the options available change often. Considering the ingredients Hernández uses and the fact that the tamales are served with salsa on top, this eatery might not be for the tamal purist.

814 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Launched during the pandemic by 5 Rabanitos owner Alfonso Sotelo, Fiesta Tamalería el Barrio reflects the Tompolobampo and Xoco alum’s love for his home state of Guerrero in its menu. The fluffy and airy tamales have plenty of pulled meat in every forkful, and patrons can enjoy regional options like the spicy bean tamales, a Guerrero favorite. The atole choices feature difficult-to-find flavors, such as guava, coconut, and sweet potato, which are clear giveaways of the chef’s regional flair.

1820 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Hailing from the state of Michoacán, the epicenter of carnitas know-how, Inocencio Carbajal opened Carnitas Uruapan in 1975. Here, patrons can order either one taco or a whole pound (or many) and choose from different pork cuts. Traditional cactus salad, pickled chilis, chicharrón, and brain quesadillas are also available. Recently, Michoacano-style tamales, known as corundas made with two different masa types and stuffed with either queso fresco or swiss chard, were added to the menu. The dense tamales which can also be served as a vehicle for moles or other dishes are served with chile de árbol sauce, sour cream, and cotija cheese.

1725 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Rain, shine, or snow, there’s always a long line at the Tamale Lady cart. A QR code on the cart directs customers to the menu, and her name and logo on it makes it clearly recognizable among others who, wanting to capitalize on her word of mouth, stand around her. The Tamale Lady offers corn husk and Oaxacan tamales wrapped in banana leaves. The filling choices include pork and chicken in green salsa, pork in red salsa, bean tamales, and a couple of sweet options. Do not forget to pair your bounty with champurrado. Find her early. She is out at 7 a.m. and sells out quickly.

1900-1998, W 21st Pl

Chicago, IL 60608

Masa is king at Xocome Antojería, and the menu at this restaurant is a shrine to Vitamin T (tacos, tortas, tamales, and so on). Famous for their tlacoyos, small oval-shaped masa patties stuffed with beans and topped with a variety of ingredients, this Archer Heights spot also sells airy tamales, and champurrado that are not to be missed.

5200 S Archer Ave Suite 8

Chicago, IL 60632

Mexico City natives would agree that everything tastes better stuffed inside a bolillo roll, including tamales. The carb redundancy is found in the popular streetside breakfast torta de tamal, also known as “guajolota,” in which a roll, is stuffed with the patron’s tamal of choice. Fat Johnnie’s serves a local variation known as the Mother-In-Law, which features chili-covered hot tamales instead of a sausage in a poppy seed hot dog bun. Smaller than its Mexican counterparts, the mass-produced hot tamale (known as such in the singular in the Southern vernacular; the others are known as “tamal” in Spanish) is made from cornmeal, which gives it a gritty texture. 

7242 S Western Ave

Chicago, IL 60636

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