Del Taco’s Smothered Tamales Are Here

Tamales will stick around at Del Taco nationwide until December 28, but is this holiday offering worth it?

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Does this look delicious or disgusting? Could go either way, tbh
Does this look delicious or disgusting? Could go either way, tbh
Photo: Danny Palumbo

Back by what it says is popular demand, Del Taco is selling tamales this holiday season. From now until December 28, you can order shredded pork tamales smothered in sauce or freshly steamed and unadorned. A tradition among Mexican and South American families this time of year (and a staple in the American Southwest, too), tamales are a delightfully warm and comforting food packed with flavors I seek out every December. It’s not like there’s a shortage of tamales where I live in Los Angeles. But with 363 Del Tacos in California alone, is the convenience and price here too good to ignore? Should you be passing up roadside and gas station tamale stands to grab a batch from Del Taco? I tried this seasonal fast food offering to find out.

Del Taco’s Chili Cheese Smothered Tamales

Judging a tamale starts with the corn masa, and I’m not sure Del Taco’s masa has enough seasoning or fat to hold up. A good tamale can be eaten plain all by itself: It should be moist, seasoned, and savory. But at Del Taco, the masa just doesn’t have enough seasoning or fatty flavor to be eaten plain. The tamales are a little dry and flavorless, and they need help.

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Luckily, the chili cheese smothered tamales come positively drenched in beef chili, shredded cheddar, and a cool and tangy sour cream. I’m actually all the way on board with a big dollop of sour cream on tamales, but the beef chili just doesn’t pack enough meaty flavor to make a difference. It’s thin, pulverized bits of beef in a mild chili sauce that just doesn’t inspire.

Also, may I just confirm that the amount of shredded pork photographed in these tamales isn’t remotely representative of what’s actually included in your order. Food styling is a hell of a job, man. Del Taco’s tamales are mostly masa and don’t come close to approximating the pork-stuffed bundles advertised on the menu.

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Maybe a fried egg at home here would help these chili cheese tamales taste better, almost like a chilaquiles. Although what’s the point of fast food if you’re trying to save it with some additional cooking at home?

Del Taco’s Red and Green Tamales

I like that the red and green tamales come with some sour cream and fresh cilantro, but while they’re advertised as being topped with “both zesty red and tangy green sauce,” the salsas here don’t have any real zip or brightness to them, and it’s infuriating. I would recommend scouring your fridge for other acceptable sauces and condiments. I’ve found good luck with brands like La Victoria and Chi-Chi’s salsa verde, both of which are aromatic and contain good onion and garlic flavor—elements Del Taco is sorely lacking.

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Are Del Taco’s tamales worth it?

Tamales are certainly something to seek out this time of year, and while $12.68 for 4 smothered tamales is a hell of a deal, I’ll be looking for my tamales at non-Del Taco locations this holiday season—tamales sold by a family stand or an outdoor food cart is the way to go. Or maybe I’ll go to one of the many notable Mexican restaurants here in Los Angeles to place a large holiday order.

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I don’t want to be too nitpicky, but tamales are just one of those foods that I prefer to be made personally and with love (lard). They’re an iconic holiday meal, and one that I think is best savored when you can trace back them back to the hands that prepared them. At Del Taco, my order lacked the nuance and personality of homemade tamales that the American Southwest has fallen in love with.