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Tamale Love

A Tour of the Best Tamales in Tucson

I met my friend Milagros in the mid-70s. She would make the most incredible tamales and sell them on Sundays after Church. One day during lunch I asked her how and why she decided to make tamales. While attending a Christian retreat, the priest preached that she had to “spread the word of the Lord by visiting with others.” She knew right then how she would. Milagros went back home and asked her mother-in-law to teach her how to make tamales. 

“I add all my love while I make them. Tamales are not just made of ingredients…they need you to pour your heart into making them” she said.

         Tamales are made of masa, which Is ground corn moistened with water. The wrapping gives the tamale its name, as it comes from the word tamalli, meaning wrapped. The wrapping can come in the form of corn husks or banana leaves. Inside the masa is a filling of tender meats, aromatic spices and carefully chopped vegetables.          

          Tamales were the first dish made from corn in Central America. Although the exact history is not entirely clear, many historians believe that tamales were first made by the Aztecs ten thousand years ago. Tamales were a portable, protein-rich food that Aztec warriors could take into battle. Hunters could also carry them into the field. Tamales were originally cooked over hot ashes in a buried fire. Later, when Spanish conquistadors brought pots and pans, women started steaming the corn-wrapped packages. The Spanish also introduced more flavors, adding meat and lard to the vegetable delights. 

         Milagros and I make tamales together, focusing on the love and passion that goes into making them. Tamales are a staple around the holidays and there are a number of places here locally to sample some of the best flavors. Some of our favorites:

Tucson Tamale Company

Inspired by family recipes and the different tamales around the world, owners Todd and Sherry transformed the Ancient Latin tradition of Tamale making with an eye on healthier and cleaner ingredients. Today, they continue to make award-winning tamales, spreading joy one handmade tamale at a time. 

“We are so proud of the tamales we make. We still do it the way Mama Celia taught us. Real people roll each tamale by hand. We still wrap them in a traditional corn husk (hoja).” Among the favorite tamales they make are the Blue Corn with Calabacitas. Today they have two manufacturing facilities and their tamales are sold in all 50 states and over 6,000 grocery stores. They ship over 16,000 orders throughout the year! Tamales have become a wonderful gift item for special occasions like birthdays, holidays, a birth, or even to friends that are ill or have lost a significant other. And if you are a Hot Sauce Lover, Tucson Tamale sells over 350 different sauces! They also make and sell fresh tortillas. For more information, visit

El Charro Cafe

The hand-made tamales from Carlotta’s Kitchen facility include delicious recipe classics like Fresh Corn, Tomatillo Chicken and Red Chile Beef, as well as newer favorites like the Vegan Chocolate Hazelnut Desert Tamale and Hola Hemp line of vegan tamales made with natural hemp seeds and other superfoods. Carlotta loves that her Tamales are the perfect food to go mobile, as they can be kept frozen until ready to heat and eat. They are gluten-free, made with healthy fats and come individually wrapped to hand out to friends and neighbors.

At Sybil’s Kitchen Tamales

Sybil grew up in Lima, Peru where tamales are the best typical breakfast you can have! You can still find the “tamaleras” steaming their tamales on the street on big, deep cast iron pots. “We like to serve the tamales topped with ‘salsa de cebollas’ (pickled red onions with aji chile, lime juice and a little olive oil).” Sybil’s tamales are made from scratch with the best organic ingredients. When assembling them, they are stuffed with lots of meat filling and just enough masa. Learn more at