Mom’s Tamales—L.A.’s Best?

Nestled against the hills of Lincoln Heights, my wife’s old stomping grounds, is Mom’s Tamales, considered one of the best tamalerias in Los Angeles. Recipe handed down from grandmother, to mother and and now to current owner, the tamales are so popular that any of the six on the menu may be unavailable at any time because customers may have depleted the day’s stock. Bulk purchases can be made by the dozen either steamed or unsteamed ($3 cheaper).

The business’ exterior is not much to look at, the front of a brick warehouse from all appearances except for the restaurant’s name painted high on the wall in Mexican tri-colors. Similar non-descript buildings are to the north, a dirt yard surrounded by chainlink fencing and an overgrown property hiding a crowing rooster to the south.

Inside, things are more cheery, floor-to-ceiling windows on the west wall, tables spread out over the telltale warehouse space and a mural on the north wall. Still, for all the windows, it was dim inside.

momstamales - 1

My brother-in-law and I arrived at 9:30am shortly after Mom’s opened. The breakfast menu looked interesting—machacachilaquileshuevos rancherosspinach and eggs and one of my favorites, chorizo con huevos. But, this place is known for tamales, so both he and I opted for the tamale combination, any two tamales paired with rice and beans. My choices were spinach and cheese and chicken molé. I had never come across the latter before; since I love molé sauce, I had to have one. Both fillings were very tasty, as was my brother-in-law’s cheese and jalapeno. But what distinguished these tamales was the extraordinary masa, more light and fluffy than I can ever recall having eaten. Are these the best tamales in L.A.? Could be.

Incidentally, Guy Fieri featured Mom’s in his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives a few years ago.

Mom’s Tamales
3328 Pasadena Ave
Los Angeles CA

Noodle Soups at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo (Los Angeles, CA)

One of the best—if not the best—reasons for eating in Los Angeles’ sizable Koreatown is the opportunity to taste specialties not on standard Korean menus. For instance, take kalgooksoo (or kalguksu), a noodle soup similar to Japanese udon with its thick wheat-based noodles in a rich broth. Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo specializes in it, so highly regarded that a wait to get tables is all too common. Arriving early before the noon crowd is a better way to avoid human traffic at the door. Though my wife and I got there at 11am, within a half hour, all the tables were already occupied.

Instead of banchan, a sort of appetizer is served. A bowl of steamed barley is accompanied by three kinds of kimchi—cabbage, daikon radish and young radish leaves (yeolmu)—as well as a gochujang miso paste (dwaenjang) that can be daubed on the barley with a little sesame oil.

The soups arrived after a wait of 15-20 minutes. The bowls were quite large, holding a generous portion of noodles and broth with other ingredients. Manila clam kal guk su (☆☆☆½) easily harbored two dozen clams (bajirak) which started out perfectly cooked but not surprisingly became more rubbery as they sat in the steaming hot, delicious clam-flavored broth. Also included were slices of high-starch potatoes that were much too mealy and kabocha.

Manila clam kal guk su

Manila clam kal guk su

More impressive was chicken kal guk su (☆☆☆☆, top image). The small half chicken shredded easily with chopsticks, obviously simmered long to make the wonderfully rich broth enhanced by aromatics and other flavorings.

What make these soups a great comfort food, besides the broth, are the noodles. They are typically made from scratch with flour, kneaded and hand-cut with a knife, giving them a superb doughy, springy texture. Hangari delivers in spades.

Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo
3470 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Lunch at Daikokuya (Los Angeles, CA)

We could have eaten at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo on our last trip to Southern California, but the line outside was too long. Since we weren’t in any hurry today, we put our name on the list and waited over an hour to get seated. There are branches throughout the southland. Ramen addicts seem to love it. Food critic Jonathan Gold also chimed in with his praises.

Their ramen is truly special. The broth was wonderfully rich and the noodles had a nice chew that together make the Daikoku ramen a contender for best ramen anywhere. Some of us ordered the regular ramen; a kotteri version is available that will appeal to aficionados of extra porky and fatty broth.

Regular ramen

I noticed a paper menu on the walls that advertised the kichimen ramen, which is basically the regular ramen broth with added spiciness and tartness. This, I ordered. In addition, the noodles and condiments are served on the side, which means that you can choose to dip the noodles in the broth instead of combining it. I’m not a dipper (the dipper vs. soaker preference battle rages in our family when eating soba), so I dumped everything into the broth. Herein lies the problem because by doing this, the ramen gets cooled down considerably. While the broth is really delicious, I’d prefer my ramen piping hot. Halved barely hard-cooked eggs, whose slightly darkened egg whites hint at a soy sauce bath, tons of minced green onions, bean sprouts, sliced, almost slivered kurobuta and sour bamboo shoots complete the condiment ingredients. (The regular ramen has everything mixed together and the pork is sliced in larger pieces.)

Kichimen ramen

I noticed several people eating what looked like sausages, so when we left, I looked at their menu (posted outside) and saw “sausages” listed under appetizers. These too are made with kurobuta. I might have to try these the next time.

327 E 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012