16 Tamales We Love in Chicago

[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

My favorite tamales are tender, fragrant of corn, and loaded with just enough fat—usually lard—to hold everything together. They can be plump and bursting out of their corn husks or rolled up tight like little cigars. They can even be folded up neatly in banana leaves or garnished with dozens of ingredients. Of course, why am I talking about tamales so close to Christmas?

I'll be totally honest about this: After looking through a list of traditional Christmas foods, I noticed tamales and didn't look back for a second. Not that I needed an excuse to eat more Mexican food, but tamales also seemed like the perfect Christmas food. I mean, they even come wrapped up like little presents with strips of corn husk replacing the ribbons. Plus, I can't be the only one who eagerly awaits the arrival of a certain jolly man with a big red cooler around area bars? (Okay, that one is kind of a stretch.)

As you've probably noticed, Chicago is absolutely chock full of tamales. But as ubiquitous as they may be, I'm not sure if there is a Chicago food less appreciated and understood than the tamale. They can be purchased by the dozen for less than $10, or you can spend the same amount on one beautifully presented tamale at a nice restaurant. They are diverse and fascinating, and I wanted to get a broad sampling to showcase what Chicago had to offer.

I knew I was going to find a lot of them, but I just didn't expect for there to be as many great ones. And they were located all over the city, from Roger's Park to Gage Park. I could have kept going, but 16 felt like a good number.

I'm sure I missed a few around the city, and I'd definitely love to hear which places to try next. Just let me know.