The Best Frozen Tamales at the Grocery Store

When I set out to find the best frozen tamales, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting a lot. In this taste test I learned that many frozen tamales are about as stodgy and bland as you’d expect, but a precious few cook up fluffy and savory and bursting with rich masa flavor after a quick nuke in the microwave.

When I lived in Chicago, one of my favorite activities was hanging out at the local bowling alley (I was part of a media league and, no, I was not good) and waiting for the tamalero to come around with this little Playmate cooler full of hot, foil-wrapped tamales. Truly, a man shouting “Tamales, tamales, tamales!” might still be one of my favorite sounds. I’d always get a couple of green chile and cheese tamales and then greedily eat them with my filthy bowling hands. The pre-pandemic world was so carefree!

I didn’t expect any of the frozen tamales we picked up at the grocery store—even the best grocery store tamales—to compete with that experience, but three came close. We wanted fluffy, flavorful masa and an ample amount of filling. I cooked all of these in the microwave (as instructed) and I was stunned by how well some of these microwave tamales turned out. Now bust out the good hot sauce and let’s talk tamales.


el monterey beef tamales

Best Beef Tamales

El Monterey Beef Tamales

El Monterey is a very accessible grocery store brand, and even though they make the best taquitos we’ve ever tasted, I wasn’t sure how well they’d pull off a tasty, authentic tamale. I was pretty impressed with these beef tamales. They’re pleasantly snack-sized. The shredded beef filling is so savory and well spiced that it infuses the masa around it with a nice, zesty flavor. These suckers could use a little hot sauce, but they’re the best beef tamales we tried and also the store bought tamales you will most certainly be able to find at your local supermarket.

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

best vegetarian tamales

Best Vegetarian Tamales

Tucson Tamale Green Chile & Cheese

If you also love green chile and cheese tamales and won’t be hanging around a Chicago bowling alley anytime soon, these are the best frozen tamales to seek out. The flavors are so simple but so satisfying—the cheese is salty and the chile pepper is bright. They even taste like they might have a little bit of lime zest in the mix—it’s very lovely, even if there isn’t all that much filling. Another thing about these microwavable tamales: They’re huge! These are burrito-sized tamales. These are full-meal tamales. They’re the best frozen tamales if you’re good and hungry. And, if you don’t eat meat, they’re the best vegetarian tamales, too.

Rating:

8.5/10

Sporks

best chicken tamales

Best of the Best

Del Real Chicken in Green Sauce Tamales

The best frozen tamales need a flavorful filling, yes, but they also need flavorful masa. Tamales are mostly masa—it needs to be seasoned and it needs to taste good. Del Real’s chicken tamales are the best frozen tamales we tried, and that’s largely because the masa is just so fluffy and flavorful. The chicken is savory and the sauce it’s in tastes like good salsa verde. Granted, these aren’t very “saucy,” but they don’t need to be. They’re flavorful and well balanced, and they’re the best store bought tamales we found.

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Other products we tried: Del Real Pork Tamales, Tucson Tamale Green Chile Pork & Cheese, Bueno Red Chile Pork Tamales, Bueno Vegan Tamales


About the Author

Gwynedd Stuart

Gwynedd Stuart, Sporked’s managing editor, is an L.A.-based writer and editor who spends way, way too much time at the grocery store. She’s never met an Old El Paso taco or mozzarella stick she didn’t like.