Tamales are a popular and flavorful Mexican dish that can be enjoyed on their own or paired with a variety of delicious sides. If you’re wondering what to serve with tamales to take your meal to the next level, keep reading for some tasty and complementary options.

A collage of homemade tamales, Mexican rice, guacamole, and salad with text overlay that reads "10 Mexican sides perfect for tamales."

If you’re a fan of tamales, you know that this classic Mexican dish can be a meal all on its own. However, if you’re looking to expand your tamale spread or serve them up at a party or gathering, you may be wondering what to serve with tamales. Fear not, because we’ve got you covered with a list of delicious and complementary side dishes that will make your tamales shine.

What Are Tamales? A beautiful overhead photo of homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks on a platter. One tamale is open on a ceramic plate and served with salsa verde and guacamole.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish that are made by steaming masa (a dough made from corn) that’s been filled with various ingredients such as meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables, and often seasoned with spices and chilies.

They are typically wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf before being steamed, which helps to keep them moist and infuse them with flavor.

Tamales are a staple of Mexican cuisine and are enjoyed both as a main dish and as a snack. They are enjoyed year-round but are often made as a Christmas tradition. 

What to Serve with Tamales

Tamales are often served with a variety of complementary sides such as beans, rice, salsa, and guacamole. Here are the best side dishes to complete your meal. 

1.  BeansA slotted spoon lifts steaming pinto beans out of an Instant Pot.

Beans are a classic and nutritious side dish that pairs perfectly with tamales. Not only are they a good source of protein and fiber, but their creamy texture and savory flavor complement the dense texture and spicy flavors of tamales. Plus, beans are versatile and easy to make, making them a great addition to any tamale spread. For an extra kick, try adding some chopped jalapeños or a dollop of sour cream to your refried beans.

Here are some favorite Mexican bean recipes to use with your tamales: 

2. Mexican Rice

A bowl of Mexican rice on a stone counter with bowls of corn salsa, queso fresco, and black beans. All great side dishes to serve with tamales.

Another classic side dish to serve with tamales is Mexican rice. This rice dish is typically made with tomato sauce, onions, and garlic, giving it a slightly sweet and savory flavor that complements tamales perfectly. The fluffy texture of the rice also helps to balance out the dense texture of the tamales. Plus, like beans, rice is a good source of carbohydrates, making it a filling and satisfying addition to your meal. 

3. Salsa

A glass dish filled with homemade salsa with chips.

Salsa is a must-have side dish for any tamale spread. Whether you prefer mild or spicy salsa, the tangy flavor and chunky texture of this condiment pairs perfectly with tamales. Salsa also adds a pop of color to your plate, making your meal look as good as it tastes. For an extra burst of flavor, try making your own salsa with fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice.

4. Guacamole

Guacamole is made in an earthenware bowl on a marble countertop.

Another classic Mexican condiment that pairs perfectly with tamales is guacamole. The rich and creamy texture of the avocado helps to balance out the spicy and tangy flavors of the tamales. For an extra kick, try adding some diced jalapeños or a squeeze of lime juice to your guacamole. Feel free to simplify and simply top your tamales with freshly sliced avocado and a squeeze of lime. 

5. Pico de Gallo

Two vegetarian tamales on a plate topped with pico de Gallo and served with black beans and Mexican rice. What to serve with tamales.

Pico de gallo is a fresh and flavorful side dish that complements tamales perfectly. Made with fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro, this chunky salsa is a great way to add some crunch and texture to your meal.

Pico de gallo also adds a bright and zesty flavor to your plate, making it the perfect accompaniment to tamales.

6. Queso Fresco

A tamale with verde salsa garnished with edible flowers and queso fresco.

Queso fresco is a soft and crumbly cheese that is commonly used in Mexican cuisine. This cheese pairs perfectly with tamales, adding a salty and savory flavor to your plate.

Queso fresco also adds a creamy texture to your meal, helping to balance out the dense texture of the tamales. For an extra burst of flavor, try crumbling some queso fresco over your tamales and serving them with a side of sliced avocado.

7. Roasted or Grilled Vegetables

A large platter of grilled vegetables.

If you’re looking for a healthy and nutritious side dish to serve with your tamales, roasted vegetables are a great option. Roasting vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini brings out their natural sweetness, making them a delicious complement to tamales. Plus, roasted vegetables are a good source of fiber and vitamins, making them a nutritious addition to your meal.

8. Salad

A white bowl with a simple green lettuce salad with tomatoes and red onion.

If you’re looking to balance out the rich and hearty flavors of tamales, serving them with a light and refreshing salad can be a great option. A simple green salad with a tangy vinaigrette can help to cut through the richness of the tamales, making your meal more balanced and satisfying. Plus, adding some fresh vegetables to your salad can help you to get some extra nutrients into your meal.

9. Grilled Shrimp

Grilled shrimp skewers with lime and cilantro. A healthy Mexican side.

Grilled shrimp is a delicious and protein-packed side dish that pairs perfectly with tamales. The smoky flavor and juicy texture of the shrimp provide a refreshing contrast to the denser texture and spiciness of the tamales.

Additionally, the mild flavor of the shrimp allows the bold flavors of the tamales to shine through, creating a well-balanced and satisfying meal. Grilled shrimp is also a light and healthy option, making it a great choice for those looking for a nutritious and delicious side dish to serve with their tamales.

To grill shrimp with lime juice, start by preheating your grill to medium-high heat. Thread peeled and deveined shrimp onto skewers and brush them with a mixture of olive oil, lime juice, and seasonings such as salt, pepper, and chili powder. Grill the shrimp skewers for 2-3 minutes per side, or until they are pink and cooked through. Once cooked, remove the shrimp from the grill and squeeze fresh lime juice over them for an extra pop of flavor. Serve alongside your favorite tamales for a delicious and refreshing meal.

10. Nopales 

A small white dish filled with nopales cactus salad topped with queso fresco. A traditional healthy Mexican side dish.

Nopales cactus, also known as prickly pear cactus, is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. It has a slightly tangy and crunchy texture.

Nopales can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as sautéed, grilled, or pickled. It’s often seasoned with spices and herbs.

When served with tamales, nopales cactus can add a refreshing and crunchy texture to the meal. This Mexican side adds a pop of flavor that complements the spicy and savory flavors of the tamales.

11. Margaritas 

A homemade margarita in a short glass with a crystal shaker in the background in a white kitchen.

Margaritas are a popular cocktail that make a refreshing and flavorful pairing with tamales. The tangy and slightly sweet flavor of the lime juice in margaritas complements the spicy and savory flavors of tamales. Additionally, the acidity of the lime juice can help to cut through the richness of the masa and filling. Whether you prefer your margarita on the rocks or blended, it’s a classic choice.

In conclusion, there are many delicious and complementary side dishes that you can serve with tamales. From classic staples like refried beans, Mexican rice, and salsa, to more creative options like roasted vegetables and salad, there is no shortage of delicious side dishes. So, the next time you’re wondering what to serve with tamales, try one of these tasty and nutritious side dishes to make your meal even more satisfying.