It’s a quintessential Southern California story: a Cambodian couple takes over a donut shop, learns the tamale trade from an employee and eventually works those neat, polenta-like packets of masa into a menu of crullers and coffee.
Garden Grove’s Sak Donuts, hidden in a Harbor Blvd. strip mall on the periphery of Little Saigon, is as exemplary of the American eating experience as any hamburger or rack of ribs.
There are two kinds of tamales here: a smoky red tamale and a jalapeño-shocked green tamale. Both are loaded with a wealth of shredded chicken. (Sak’s tamales are pork-less and lard-less in order to adhere to the owners’ Islamic beliefs.) Each is swaddled in a banana leaf and kept warm in a steel steamer. That verdant shell keeps the masa almost molten, soft and remarkably tender to the touch. The tamales solidify once they get some oxygen, though they only coagulate just enough to be able to be picked up.
Sak’s tamales are slick, almost wet. They’re sort of Yucatecan in style and really quite good. Both the milder red and more powerfully spiced green are far better than the dry, flavorless iterations you’ve probably encountered elsewhere. They’re $2 apiece, but their heft more than accounts for their price.