question: Where are those crunchy — yet at the same time juicy — carnitas I have been looking for? Lares on Pico Boulevard does a pretty good job, but I’m hoping you’ll lead me to the real deal!
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answer: There are, of course, practically as many different styles of carnitas as there are Mexican cooks. Antijitos Denise’s sells wonderful carnitas and chicharrones from a stand in East Los Angeles, although they tend more toward the tender than the crunchy; the carnitas at the Lincoln Heights branch of Carnitas Michoacan are very good, though dense; the carnitas at Roast To Go, in the Grand Central Market, are also of the flavorful-but-moist school. At the West L.A. restaurant Lares, the carnitas are fine.
My favorite carnitas, I don’t mind saying, are at Carnitas Uruapan, a cinderblock shack just down from the track in Tijuana, crackling with mariachi music echoing with the crashes of Bohemia empties, crowded with truck drivers and slumming debs, local lawyers and sleepy-eyed tourists. If you pay attention, you can smell the copper cauldrons full of frying hog flesh from half a mile away, hog flesh whose pungency is tamed into a concentrated, almost caramelized sweetness, the edges crisp, the fat melted away into an intense mineral richness that completely permeates the meat. A night at the dog races followed by a half-pound of carnitas is pretty much my idea of a perfect date.
In Los Angeles, you could do a lot worse than the carnitas plate at Ciro’s, an old-fashioned essay in the virtues of total porcine crunchiness, laced with exploding pockets of juicy fat. And the fresh avocado salsa that comes free with the chips is reason alone to make the trip to the Eastside. 705 N. Evergreen St., East Los Angeles, (323) 269-5104.
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