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Photo: Wonho Frank Le
Photo: Wonho Frank Le

Afro-Mexican food finds a home in Los Angeles with Tamales Elena y Antojitos

The first restaurant of its kind for the City of Angels opened its doors on July 15.

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Maria Elena Lorenzo and her family opened the first Afro-Mexican restaurant in Bell Garden, Los Angeles on July 15.

Lorenzo had been a cart vendor in Watts, South Los Angeles, for over 20 years, specializing in regional food from her hometown, La Costa Chica, Guerrero, Mexico.

Lorenzo was known lovingly by many community members as “mama.”

La Costa Chica has a very large Afro-Mexican population, and is the source of many of Guerrero’s most noteworthy dishes, including various pozoles, caldo de cuatete (fish soup), and mole rojo con tamales nejos (red mole with unfilled tamales used as utensils).

The new restaurant, Tamales Elena y Antojitos, will feature traditional banana leaf-wrapped tamales, as well as corn husk-wrapped tamales with meat, vegetarian and vegan options. 

Thursdays will be called “el jueves pozolero,” and be dedicated to pozoles. Lorenzo will serve red, white and green pozoles, and a vegan elopozole made with fresh corn. 

The restaurant will also offer typical Afro-Mexican dishes, like tongue with plantains, aporreadillo (beef jerky and scrambled eggs), and beef barbacoa served on plates and inside of tacos. 

The owner’s daughter, Maria Irra, told LA Eater she’s “really excited to share my mom’s recipes, to celebrate our Afro-Mexican culture and bring real Guerrero food to Los Angeles.”

“We have a lot of fish and a lot of fruits that in other parts of Mexico you don’t find,” said Judepth Irra, the head chef at her family's restaurant.

LA residents on Twitter expressed their excitement for the new opening. 

“Tamales Elena is so good! Wow, didn't know she was Afro-Mexican. It holds a special place for me because my mom would ask me to pick up a chicken or strawberry tamal on the way to her place in Watts,” wrote one commenter

Another wrote “I've had Mama's street tamales... I can't wait for her first restaurant.”

Even during COVID-10, Tamales Elena y Antojitos is doing their best to add something new to the already diverse food culture of Los Angeles. 

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