Slideshow: 16 Tamales We Love in Chicago

Frontera Fresco - Chipotle Chicken Tamale ($3.95)
Frontera Fresco - Chipotle Chicken Tamale ($3.95)
A late addition to the list, I honestly wasn't expecting a whole lot from Rick Bayless's quick-service outlet in Macy's. I assumed more care and attention was paid to the huaraches and tacos than anything as time consuming as tamales. I was wrong. The tamales at Fronera Fresco might actually be the highlight of the whole menu. Fragrant and light, they are beautifully presented and garnished with some remarkable salsa.

Frontera Fresco‎, 111 N State St Chicago, Illinois 60602 (map); 312-781-4483; fronterafresco.com‎

Bombon Bakery - Pork Tamale ($2.50)
Bombon Bakery - Pork Tamale ($2.50)
Can a bakery make a great tamale? That was my bet, and Bombon Bakery delivered in a way I could hardly imagine. The tamales coming out of this West Loop joint manage a near perfect filling-to-masa ratio, making these some of the most satisfying examples in the whole city.

Bombon Cafe‎, 38 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-733-8717; bomboncafechicago.com‎

Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero - Green and Red Tamales ($1.50)
Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero - Green and Red Tamales ($1.50)
The smell of corn hit me the moment I walked in Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero—a small storefront in Rogers Park, and home to some of the best tamales in the city. I knew I was in for a good treat when I had to wait in a line that nearly stretched out the door, but I wasn't prepared for just how good these would be. That's especially true of the big, fat corn husk-wrapped ones, which featured a perfectly tender pork filling.

Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero‎, 7024 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60626 (map); 773-338-6450

Maiz - Tamal de Elote with Spinach and Rajas ($5.75)
Maiz - Tamal de Elote with Spinach and Rajas ($5.75)
I'm still mourning the closing of Tamali in Bucktown, which, as the name suggested, specialized in tamales. But luckily the owner's original restaurant, Maiz, is still alive and kicking. On the recommendation from the waiter, I tried the fresh corn tamale topped with spinach and rajas—an inspired creation that was slightly sweet and spicy.

Maiz Anojitos Y Bebidas‎, 1041 N California Ave Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-276-3149; maizchicago.com‎

Tamal Oaxaca - Oaxacan Tamales
Tamal Oaxaca - Oaxacan Tamales
I had a surprisingly hard time locating a great banana leaf wrapped tamale. Most were either too meager or too dense. But the versions coming out of Tamal Oaxaca at the Maxwell Street Market were right on. A nearly fluffy masa gave way to juicy hunks of meat. They are only available on Sundays, but are definitely worth the trek.

Tamal Oaxaca, Maxwell Street Market, 500 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); open on Sundays

Tamales Garibay - Red Tamale ($1.75)
Tamales Garibay - Red Tamale ($1.75)
Relatively new on the scene, this spare little shop in Irving Park kicks out hefty tamales that are satisfying and wonderfully rich. The green ones are good, but the red ones seem to balance fat and heat the best.

Tamales Garibay3859 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-512-8212; tamalesgaribay.com

La Casa Del Pueblo Taqueria - Tamales ($1)
La Casa Del Pueblo Taqueria - Tamales ($1)
Like the grocery store of the same name located next door, everything about La Casa Del Pueblo is a step above the average taqueria. The steam tables are loaded with wonderful looking fillings, and the tamales are well made and filling, but still not too greasy.

La Casa Del Pueblo‎ Taqueria, 1810 S Blue Island Ave Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 312-421-4664; lacasadelpueblo.com‎

El Milagro Tortilleria - Tamales ($1)
El Milagro Tortilleria - Tamales ($1)
Though it's owned by the same people behind some of the best corn tortillas in the city, tacos are not the focus of this joint. Instead, spring for the affordable tamales, which are very similar to the kind found at La Casa Del Puebla, if a touch fattier.

El Milagro Tortilla‎, 1927 South Blue Island Avenue Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 312-421-7443; el-milagro.com‎

Estrella Negra - Spinach and Artichoke Tamales (three for $8.00)
Estrella Negra - Spinach and Artichoke Tamales (three for $8.00)
Like everything at Estrella Negra, you need a sense of humor to totally get the spinach and artichoke tamales. Instead of foisting another spinach artichoke dip on customers, Estrella Negra stuffs both inside a tamale. But instead of gloopy and heavy, the result is balanced and relatively restrained.

Estrella Negra‎, 2346 West Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-227-5993; estrellanegra.com‎

Manolo's Tamales - Red or Green Tamales ($.85 a piece)
Manolo's Tamales - Red or Green Tamales ($.85 a piece)
Much like Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero, Manolo's Tamales is a small storefront with a steady line of customers getting tamales to go. Though I'm using capable of dealing with the spiciest of meals, the spicy tamales here have a genuine kick. Be careful.

Manuel's Tamales‎, 5341 South Kedzie Avenue, Chicago, IL 60632 (map); 773-436-7029; manolostamales.com

Real Tenochtitlan‎ - Uchepos Gratinados ($8)
Real Tenochtitlan‎ - Uchepos Gratinados ($8)
I know, I know. This poor tamale looks absolutely drenched in cheese, sauce, and crema. But what if I told you that the dish was actually kind of light? That's all due to the fresh corn tamale underneath, which provides some much needed sweetness to balance all of the other ingredients.

Real Tenochtitlan‎, 2451 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-227-1050; realtenochtitlanonline.com

Supreme Tamales - Prices Vary
Supreme Tamales - Prices Vary
Wrapped up in plastic, these have less to do with traditional Mexican tamales than they do with Chicago's own industrial past; made by machines, which combine a heavily seasoned ground meat mixture and cornmeal into a perfect cylinder, these can be found at any good hot dog stand, where they are used most famously as the filling for a Mother-in-Law. Though I try to keep my intake to a just a few a year, I have a strange infatuation with them and couldn't fathom leaving them off the list.

Supreme Tamales, available at various stands and grocery stores; supremetamale.com