Monday, December 24, 2012

Tamales in Denver for the Holidays (or any time).

It’s Christmas Eve and there will be another long line today, as there has been for days, at Tamales by La Casita.

The reason?

Some of the best tamales you will find anywhere.

Tamales by La Casita is a small restaurant in northwest Denver (old timers simply call it North Denver as in describing a place not just a geographic locale) which serves New Mexican style food. All of their dishes are good but tamales, as the name implies, are their specialty. In addition to table service at the restaurant there is a take-out window. It is to that window that the line leads.

Tamales and Green Chile along with Posole are enjoyed year round but they are the traditional New Mexican holiday foods for Christmas and New Years. This time of year, multiple thousands of tamales will be sold through that window.

Tamales are corn husks filled with masa (a corn flour dough) and other fillings. The husks are folded and the tamales steamed.

La Casita, which is family-owned and operated, has two tamale versions: Red which has a red chile and pork filling and Green which has a green chile and cheese filling (ther green is vegetarian and gluten free). The tamales, from a secret family recipe, are all handmade fresh each morning (this is a labor-intensive process which is why many home-cooks don’t make tamales). That means 12,000 tamales each morning, six days a week.

But of course, you don’t have to do take-out to enjoy the tamales. Whether you are visiting or local, stop by the restaurant at 36th and Tejon, sit down at a table and order a tamale plate with green chile, my favorite.

Tamales by La Casita was started by Paul Sandoval in 1974 in a tiny building (La Casita) at the corner of 44th and Tejon, in Denver. The business that he and his wife Paula operated over the years became so successful that they needed a bigger space and so they built the new restaurant at 36th and Tejon. Sadly Paul passed away this past year but Paula continues to operate the business.

Tamales by La Casita is open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday through Friday and 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Saturdays. If you are visiting from out of town, don’t miss enjoying some great tamales or other New Mexican dishes; if you are local, stop by, have some lunch and take home tamales for later.

You can also enjoy the same menu at Tamales by La Casita at Denver International Airport on concourse C.


Green Chile is a pork stew made with green chiles.

Posole is Green Chile and Hominy.

New Mexican food is a melding of Native American, Spanish and Mexican influences. though it shares many commonalities with Tex-Mex, Arizonan and northern Mexican foods, it is its own cuisine. It is marked by the heavy use of corn (especially blue corn, green chiles and pork. Popular dishes are tamales, breakfast burritos and the distinctive Navajo Taco.

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