The Street Gourmet’s Finds are Latin cuisine expert Bill Esparza’s unique culinary treasures hidden deep across the Southland. The James Beard Award-winning food writer shares his best and biggest gems with Eater, and the treasures start with D.F. Tamales all the way out in Rialto.
Garnachas, the menu of fried masa forms are a national pastime in Mexico and part of the culture of fritangas, or fried foods served at an array of street stands, carts and even tricked out shopping carts. You can find them in every state in Mexico, but Mexico City slays them all, where the demand for Vitamina T (delicious foods that start with the letter T: tamales, tacos, tostadas, tlacoyos, tortas) fuels perhaps the largest street food vending market on the planet.
Street food from Mexico City and the State of Mexico has steadily taken root in Los Angeles in the last decade with notable talents: Antojitos Carmen, Tacos Quetzalcoatl, Super Tortas DF, Nina Garcia, Antojitos Mi Abuelita and the vendors at Mercado Olympic in Downtown’s Industrial District. Carmen, Nina and Mi Abuelita have moved on, leaving a huge void — that is, until stumbling upon the best Mexico City-style restaurant in the greater Los Angeles metro area at Rialto’s D.F. Tamales.
Oscar León opened the Rialto location two years ago and has four years in business at the original location in Moreno Valley, largely supported by a customer base that’s 95% chilango (people from Mexico City). DF Tamales bills itself as a fritangueria, serving delicious lamb barbacoa flautas with consommé, tostadas of pickled beef tendon, tinga, and a rare ceviche of cecina (soft beef jerky). These menu items deliver deep layers of Mexican street food cred found only in the blue collar barrios of places like Ciudad Nezahualcoatl, where the León family is from. And of course, there are tamales.
It’s easy to stray from the marquee item of D.F. Tamales with all the options that nearly encompass the encyclopedia of chilango street food: tacos de canasta, fat and messy pambazos, alambres, quesadillas, huaraches, enchiladas and sopes — there are even pollas: Jerez wine with a pair of raw egg yolks floating on top.
Still, the tamal game is strong and nothing could be more chilango than their torta de tamal. Forget pasta, this is how you carbo-load before a marathon. Every morning, millions of chilangos swelling with glycogen stores brave the metro at the beginning of a long work day fueled by this delicious, inexpensive tamal sandwich without ever hitting the wall. But truth be told, chilangos will put anything in a pinche torta.
The León family is dedicated to their hometown and barrio, which is reflected in the interior design. There are benches festooned with the floral arcs of trajineras (colorful boats in Lake Xochimilco), kitsch, and tables proudly stamped with some of the names of Mexico City’s famed barrios like Condessa, Nezahualcoyotl and Iztapalapa.
Mexico City Metro station symbols encompass the dining room and in the corner of the dining room a lucha libre ring surrounds a group of tables, for those who’d like to wrestle with a torta cubana. Consider D.F. Tamales your General Nutrition Center of Vitamin T; and once again, real Mexico City cuisine is back on the menu all for the price of a trip to Rialto, in one of the fastest growing and exciting local Mexican food enclaves to come along in years.
943 W Foothill Blvd.