How to serve tamales for a truly fantastic dinner! These tamales side dishes will complete your Mexican feast and make it something truly memorable.
Tamales are delicious comfort food at its finest.
This traditional Mexican dish are tasty packets of corn masa harina dough filled with different combinations of meat, beans, and vegetables.
They get steamed in a wrapper made from banana leaves, corn husks, or plantain leaves, which makes them infinitely tender and succulent.
Commonly served for dinner (and sometimes breakfast), they’re hearty enough as a stand alone meal.
But what fun is that?
You need some side dishes to go along with ‘em!
If you’ve wondered what to serve with tamales, look no further!
I put together a whole list of sides for tamales, plus ideas for toppings, sauces, desserts, and even drinks to complement them as a main dish.
This post may contain affiliate links. You can view my full disclosure policy here.
What to serve with tamales
1. Mexican rice
Spanish or Mexican rice is a very popular side dish for all different types of Mexican cuisine.
White rice joins forces with tomato sauce, chicken broth, and spices like cumin and chili powder, and turns into something more delicious than the sum of its parts.
This rice recipe tastes so authentic that it’ll taste like you’re eating at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
2. Tortilla chips and salsa
Whether you make homemade salsa, or buy it from your grocery store, a tamale dinner just cries out for chips and salsa.
A popular option is traditional salsa, or red sauce, but a salsa verde, or green sauce, is also delicious!
You can set it out as an appetizer, or serve it right at the table as a side dish.
Either way, people just love to dip!
3. Black beans
These Mexican black beans are sure to become your new favorite go-to side dish for all kinds of dinners.
It starts with a can of black beans, and gets brightened up with a few fresh ingredients.
They’re the trifecta of easy, tasty, and healthy!
Mexican street corn, also known as elote, is an authentic street food that is more delicious than you can imagine.
The sweetness of corn on the cob gets bathed in salty cotija cheese, creamy mayo, smoky chile, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Be sure to make extra, because everyone will be wanting seconds.
5. Fried egg
If you’re serving tamales for breakfast, the best way to complete the meal is to eat a fried egg along with it.
The runny yolk adds a decadent sauce and flavor that cannot be beat.
You can make the edges as crispy as you’d like for some added texture.
6. Cilantro lime rice
This cilantro lime rice tastes better than Chipotle. Seriously.
It’s so fluffy and tender, with a brightness that can only come from fresh cilantro and lime juice.
Such a great, light side dish to eat with tamales!
7. Refried beans
Whether you use the easy way of doctoring up a can of refried beans…
(I like to thin them out with chicken broth, and add some cumin and chili powder for extra flavor)
…or make refried beans from scratch at home, they’re a must-have side for all types of Mexican food.
8. Cucumber tomato avocado salad
For an especially fresh, light, and healthy side dish, you must try this cucumber, tomato, and avocado salad.
It’s perfect for summertime, when the tomatoes and cucumber are in season.
Lemon juice and olive oil make a vibrantly bright dressing that will complement the tamales so well.
9. Pinto beans
Perhaps one of the most budget-friendly Mexican sides out there, this pinto bean recipe starts with dried beans that become amazingly creamy and flavorful.
You may never buy canned beans again!
While they take time to cook, they’re extremely easy to prepare.
And the compliments you’ll receive make it all worthwhile.
10. Jalapeno cornbread
Jalapeno cornbread is the perfect combo of sweet and spicy.
The corn dough flavor mirrors the tamale taste in an equally comforting way.
Slather the cornbread slices in honey butter for an extra special treat!
11. Quinoa salad with green chilies
This Mexican quinoa salad with green chilies is somehow both hearty and light.
Quinoa, corn, black beans, mild bell pepper, avocado, and mild green chiles come together in a light sauce to make something magically delicious.
It can be eaten warm or chilled, and is packed with healthy ingredients.
Don’t let that fool you though, because even the most carnivorous at the dining table will enjoy this flavorful side dish.
12. Jicama slaw
Jicama is crisp, juicy, and crunchy, with a very mild apple flavor.
When combined with other crunchy shredded veggies and a tangy vinaigrette, it becomes a light and fresh jicama slaw.
This unique coleslaw is a healthy, vegan side dish, but delicious enough for everyone to enjoy.
13. Cucumber soup
Cold cucumber soup is perfect for hot summer days.
You don’t even need to turn on the stovetop, or heat up your kitchen in any way.
Cucumbers, greek yogurt, garlic, and herbs get blended with lemon juice and olive oil to create a creamy, cooling soup.
14. Grilled vegetables
Roasted or grilled vegetables take on a whole new sweet and slightly smoky flavor when cooked.
Asparagus, zucchini, red onions, mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, and even corn are all ideal for grilling.
15. Taco salad
Taco salad is a delicious and hearty side dish for tamales.
While it can be a stand alone meal (which is perfect if not everyone at your house likes tamales), it also makes a great side, since it’s a salad.
It’s the perfect way to get your picky eaters to eat their greens, and be prepared for everyone to go back for seconds!
16. Fried plantains
The perfect side dish for any Latin meal, fried plantains are crispy on the outside.
Their sweetness will add a nice balance to your tamale dinner, and everyone will be super impressed that you made such a unique and authentic side dish.
This recipe is so simple – just plantains, oil, and a little salt!
17. Arroz borracho
Arroz borracho, aka drunk rice, is rice steamed in beer and tasty seasonings.
It has a lovely golden color, and a malty, rich flavor that’s purely delicious.
With just a few inexpensive ingredients, it comes together fairly quickly and easily.
18. Fruit salad
Honey lime rainbow fruit salad is sweet, bright, and colorful.
It’s truly the perfect side dish or dessert for your savory tamale dinner and other sides.
The dressing is simple, but really takes fruit salad to the next level.
Everyone will be asking you for the recipe!
Gazpacho is a cold soup made from raw, blended vegetables.
Roma tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and a few secret ingredients turn into a surprisingly delicious cold soup.
You can whip it up in about 15 minutes, and it can even be sipped through a straw as a beverage if you like.
20. Cabbage salsa
Yep, you read that right. Cabbage salsa, aka Mexican coleslaw is super easy to make and insanely delicious.
(Imagine if pico de gallo and coleslaw had a baby.)
You can eat it as a topping for your tamales, a side dish, or as a dip with tortilla chips.
21. Three bean salad
Mexican three bean salad is a super tasty combination of black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, corn, bell pepper, and red onion – tossed in a yummy dressing.
You can make it hours ahead of time, and use it as a side dish, topping, or dip.
22. Black bean soup
This light and creamy black bean soup is packed with flavor.
The recipe uses canned black beans and a few other simple ingredients to create a restaurant-worthy soup.
It’ll make the perfect appetizer or side for tamales.
23. Gallo pinto
Gallo pinto, aka Costa Rican beans and rice, is a hearty and delicious side dish.
Rice, black beans, bell pepper, onion, and a smoky salsa make up this tasty dish.
You won’t want to put your fork down!
24. Cactus salad
Authentic Mexican cactus salad, also known as ensalada de nopales, is a refreshing salad that’s the perfect counterpart to a hearty dish like tamales.
Cactus leaves are actually really healthy, and very commonly eaten in Mexico.
25. Corn chowder
This corn chowder recipe is hearty, comforting, and full of flavor.
Corn, potatoes, and a few veggies turn magical when turned into a delicious soup.
Its slight sweetness balances savory tamales oh-so well!
What sauce to eat with tamales
Tamales pair well with a variety of different sauces. They can be a little dry on their own, so consider adding a delicious sauce on top.
The best sauces for tamales are:
- Cilantro lime crema (aka Mexican crema)
- Salsa – such as tomatillo salsa verde or ranchero sauce
- Sour cream
- Mole sauce
What toppings to serve with tamales
Another great way to spice up your tamales is to set out a couple topping options.
You can buy most of them ready to serve at your grocery store – no prep required!
Popular tamale toppings include:
- Pico de gallo
- Salsa – red or verde
- Pickles jalapenos
- Marinated onions
- Sour cream
- Cotija cheese or queso fresco
- Lime wedges
Desserts to serve with tamales
When it comes down to what to eat with tamales, it’s really fun to offer some delicious treats to finish off the meal.
The best desserts to serve with tamales are:
Drinks to serve with tamales
No meal is complete without a tasty beverage. Try pairing one of these delicious drink ideas with your meal.
The best drinks to serve with traditional tamales are:
- Mexican beer
How to serve tamales
Tamales are traditionally served with their plantain leaves or banana leaves wrappers still on.
Simply set them out on a tamale platter serving plate, and each guest can serve themselves however many tamales they’d like.
While the wrappers are technically edible, it is not recommended to eat them.
The wrappers are removed by each person before eating.
Ready to try some of these side dishes for tamales?
I hope these ideas for what to eat tamales have given you lots of inspiration for a delicious dinner!
You can go with what is traditionally served with tamales, or create your own unique experience by mixing and matching these fun ideas.
Which recipes will you choose?
- Mexican rice or Spanish rice
- Tortilla chips and salsa
- Black beans
- Elote (Mexican street corn)
- Fried egg
- Cilantro lime rice
- Refried beans
- Cucumber tomato avocado salad
- Pinto beans
- Jalapeno cornbread
- Quinoa salad with green chiles
- Jicama slaw
- Cucumber soup
- Grilled vegetables
- Taco salad
- Fried plantains
- Arroz borracho
- Fruit salad
- Cabbage salsa
- Three bean salad
- Black bean soup
- Gallo pinto
- Cactus salad (ensalada de nopales)
- Corn chowder
- Choose 1-3 side dishes to serve with your tamales
- Gather the ingredients and cook your meal
- Serve the tamale dinner and enjoy a delicious, festive meal