Tamaliza Café

Photograph by John Burcham
Photograph by John Burcham

By Noah Austin

Here’s what’s going to happen when you walk into Tamaliza Café, which sits a mile west of the art galleries and aura readers of uptown Sedona. You’re going to peruse the tiny, cafeteria-style restaurant’s menu of tamales, enchiladas and tacos … and then you’re going to come to the Tamale Supreme (pictured): an unwrapped tamale piled high with homemade black beans, spinach, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa and radish relish. And after you inevitably try it, you’re going to wonder why you even considered ordering anything else.

That devotion to exceptional flavor is a feeling Claudia Gonzalez knows well. She grew up in Taxco, Guerrero, southwest of Mexico City. There, her grandmothers taught her how to make tamales, tortillas and salsas from scratch. When Gonzalez moved to the U.S., and ultimately to Sedona, she couldn’t find Mexican food that reflected the flavors of her hometown. “I thought, Maybe this is my career, my path in Sedona,” she says.

An existing Sedona restaurant gave Gonzalez an opportunity to use its kitchen, and the result was Tamaliza Market, which opened in January 2015. The tamales, made daily using organic masa and no lard or processed ingredients, quickly won over the locals, but Gonzalez wanted her own place to cook. In February 2017, she opened Tamaliza Café in a small casita that faces the sandstone buttes of Red Rock Country.

The tamales remain the stars of the show. There are beef, pork, chicken, vegetarian and vegan options, and they’re available individually and by the dozen. “A lot of people like it because it’s not heavy — not full of lard or sauces from a can,” Gonzalez says. 

But if tamales aren’t your thing, Tamaliza also has combination plates, which vary depending on the produce bought that day but might include beef tacos or chicken mole enchiladas. Everything is made from scratch.

Gonzalez’s cooking has won over Sedona residents, who keep the restaurant busy even during the off-season for tourists. The café has been so successful, in fact, that Mr. Tamaliza, a new location managed by Gonzalez’s son, recently opened in the Village of Oak Creek, a few miles south of town. There’s also a Tamaliza concession stand at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona. And at least one publication has suggested that Tamaliza’s tamales are the best in Arizona. What’s the secret? “It’s the flavor, the kitchen, the love of cooking, the energy,” Gonzalez says. “People can taste the passion we put into every tamale.”

When you take that first bite of the Tamale Supreme, you’ll know exactly what she means.

Tamaliza Café is located at 1155 W. State Route 89A in Sedona. For more information, call 928-202-9296 or visit sedonatamaliza.com.