Los Angeles

The Best Thing We Ate This Week: Tamales from Olmeca

It was another good food week in LA, and this dish was our favorite thing about it.

@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__

There’s a rising subculture in LA at the center of a complicated Venn diagram of fashion, skateboarding, music, and cacti, a head-on collision between Supreme-style commercial streetwear and Grateful Dead hippie aesthetics, a shaggy 24 year-old in a $60 tie-dye tee with a trowel in one hand and a blunt in the other. If these are your people, you were probably in Eagle Rock last weekend, posted up in the parking lot of the Pillers building for an open-air market hosted by the exuberant clothing company at the nexus of the subculture, Ma®ket.

But if you were not there for the pots, the pot, or the cacti, there was another magnet to pull you into this crowd-tamales. In the back corner of the parking lot, past the ceramic planters shaped like Jordans, beyond the patchwork vintage flannel shirts, Yunia Funes Mata and her squad were slinging their fantastic bars of masa from a cart designed by Angeleno artist Francisco Reyes Jr., aka NeverMade.

@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__

Mata has been making and selling tamales as Olmeca since the fall of 2020, after a fruitless search around LA for the tamales of her childhood led her home to Washington, DC on a recipe-finding mission. She came back to LA and started making them herself, and everyone who tried them pushed her to take them public. So she started offering pickup and delivery through her DMs, and then expanded into pop-ups at the urging of Jen Yee from Baker’s Bench, who hosted Mata’s first one in her stand at Far East Plaza in November 2021.

Olmeca’s menu has grown over time as Mata experiments and learns, testing out new recipes and techniques. She also takes requests-her newest tamal is vegan, cashews in a cashew-chipotle crema with roasted jalapenos, at the prompting of vegan friends who wanted to try her cooking and support her pop-up.

@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__

At Ma®ket last week, the menu had all of Olmeca’s new classics-birria, carnitas, rajas, beans, and the new cashew vegan-served unwrapped from their husks and dressed with salsas, rigorously executed to exacting standards. That’s the thing with tamales; for all their apparent simplicity, they require a staggering amount of technique and precision.

Olmeca’s tamales hit the mark dead center, balanced just so but with plenty of punch. The masa has the right texture, firm and also yielding, with a subtle savoriness that isn’t so heavy handed as to overpower its essential corniness. The fillings, too, show that balance, both in proportion and in flavor. The birria buzzes gently with spices, the crunch of cashew makes a unique textural contrast, and the roasted jalapenos add subtle smoke and heat.

@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__
@olmeca.__

But it is the carnitas that stick in the mind, bright with a citrus marinade but plenty rich, with a few pieces of bark that hold their integrity through the steam and sauce like good pulled pork. The carnitas are also dressed with Mata’s excellent salsa verde, which zips with tomatillos and lime, and an herbaceous note that sits subtly underneath, a special bite.

A woman approached Mata with an empty cup of that salsa verde, holding it upside down to show her how thoroughly she had cleaned it out. “What do you put in there? I can never get my salsa verde to taste like that,” the woman said.

Mata demurred. “Love,” she said, with a knowing wink. If only that was all it took to make tamales like these.

Try Olmeca’s tamales at Ambitious Ales brewery in Long Beach this Friday, May 13 at 5 pm, and follow Mata on Instagram to stay updated on future pop-up dates.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA TimesLitroMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyLos Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.

Los Angeles

Marcus Scribner's Day Off in Crenshaw, LA Is a Tour of BBQ, Fried Chicken & Soul Food

The ‘Blackish' actor takes us to his favorite restaurants in his hometown of Crenshaw.

Thrillist/YouTube
Thrillist/YouTube
Thrillist/YouTube

Without tooting his own horn, Marcus Scribner likes to say that Los Angeles made him into a well-rounded human being. It’s all thanks to the city’s diverse mix of experiences, people, and culture.

“What I love most about LA is I feel like we have so many different biomes and people from different backgrounds,” the Blackish actor said in a recent interview with Thrillist. “I would just hop all around town all the time and get all those different experiences.”

Crenshaw, though, holds a special place in Scribner’s heart. It’s kind of like an oasis of peace and community for him. “It’s still a predominantly Black neighbourhood,” he explained. “Which is pretty dope to see in the centre of Los Angeles.” His dad used to say that getting into the neighbourhood feels peaceful and quiet, but as soon as you step out, it’s like, “Welcome to the jungle!”

Besides the tight-knit community, there’s another main thread in Scribner’s Crenshaw: fried chicken. While guiding us to the discovery of his neighbourhood in our series “Ride With Me,” Scribner realized that every single spot he took us to offers really good fried chicken. “It says something about me, I think,” he said. Scribner knows all the best fried chicken spots around town, and we’re definitely here for it.

The best breakfast spot in the world, Los Angeles staple chicken and waffle joints that even President Obama goes to, and delicious, Black-owned soul food restaurants are only some of the many Crenshaw gems Scribner shares with us.

Get ready to taste the best soul food LA has to offer. We’re going to Crenshaw.

Places to Eat & Drink

Jacks N Joe
Scribner doesn’t care what anyone else says, this is the best breakfast spot “on planet Earth.”

According to Scribner, their pancakes are amazing, and they come with maple butter syrup. But his favourite dish is the hash browns. “You can get the hash browns extra well done,” he suggested. “It’s over, it’s over. You’re having the best meal of your life.”

Roscoe’s House of Chicken N Waffles
President Obama stole Scribner’s special here-or at least that’s what Scribner will tell you.

“I’ve been ordering that, [and] all of a sudden they changed it to Obama Special when he popped out the cut,” Scribner said. No disrespect to Obama, but Scribner’s order has always been the Obama Special, which includes three wings with a waffle (or potato salad or fries). Scribner just adds an extra waffle to the mix, and that’s his all-time favourite order.

Phillips Barbecue
Scribner is aware he’ll get a lot of flack for saying this, but that’s okay. “Phillips Barbecue is hands down my favourite barbecue location,” he said.

“The meats are pretty good quality and the meats themselves are delicious and I love them,” he explained. “But it’s the sides and the sauce that just hit.” Their baked beans and macaroni salad are incredible, and you should put them right on your barbecue sandwich.

Just be careful: Their sauces are spicy, and the highest level is just too hot according to Scribner. His advice? Get the mixed sauce, and you’ll receive mild and hot together.

Alta Adams
This Black-owned soul food restaurant looks amazing, and it tastes even better. The setting is high-end, and their dishes are authentic soul food. They have “the best fried chicken,” according to Scribner.

“I like it because the chicken is moist, but it’s not too moist,” he explained. “This is some real chicken, which has some good moisture and the skin is perfect.” If you’re not in the mood for chicken, their oxtails are also a great choice. You shouldn’t miss out on the cornbread, either.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
This place is so good that it started in Tennessee and eventually expanded into LA.

“It’s just the bomb,” said Scribner. “The fried chicken is so good and spicy, which I love.” Their collard greens and baked beans are both must-trys as well, and Scribner would be the one to know. “I love baked beans,” he said. “I used to just eat straight up Bush’s baked beans out of the can, bruh. I’m wilding. I’m about that life.”

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Tiana Attride is a former associate editor at Thrillist. She cares a little too much about the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack.

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