QUESTION: I realize you get asked this kind of thing a lot, but I really, really like carnitas, especially the crunchy kind, and I really, really don’t want to drive all the way to Downey, or Pacoima, or wherever the hell you’re telling people to go now. There are a lot of places serving carnitas these days, maybe thousands of them, and it is logical that at least one of them be less than 10 minutes from my front door.
—Debbi, Santa Monica
ANSWER: My favorite carnitas place vanished a couple of months ago, a meat counter in an Eastside market that changed overnight into one of those direct-to-Michoacán shipping services without even changing the sign on the door. This was no ordinary carnitas, my friend. It was the pie-in-the-sky stuff, the meat luscious but strong, simmered right to that porky point of extreme overcooking where the flavor has just begun to veer toward gaminess, and the skin has begun to crisp, and the fat — lots of fat — would start to leak into your mouth even before your teeth got all the way through. I never managed to write about the place, never thought all that many readers would be interested in tripping past the mop displays and bright pyramids of lard buckets just to get a slightly better taco, and now it’s gone. I’ve asked the envios people where the taquería people might be, and they just shrug.
If I were on the Westside, I’d probably eat most of my carnitas at Lares, a serious, old-fashioned Mexican dining room just down the street from Rae’s, all secret niches and crinkled plaster, and one of the few restaurants in this part of town more serious about its spicy shrimp plates and carne adobada than it is about its margaritas, which the waitresses just kind of slap together at the bar. There are chorizo-and-egg burritos in the morning, and mariachis on weekend nights, if that’s your sort of thing. And the carnitas is very fine, the kind with frizzled crispy edges, a funky, developed pork flavor, and ribbons of fat sufficient to keep the chunks juicy and firm. 2909 Pico Blvd., (310) 829-4550.