Dear Mr. Gold:
Where can I find good carnitas? I'm thinking like the kind I'd get off the taco trucks in Oakland -- we loved to go to El Ojo de Agua. Relatively close to Pasadena would be nice.
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Dear Ms. K.:
You are, alas, a few years too late for my favorite carnitas in Pasadena, which used to be served at an improvised lunch counter at the back of a Northwest grocery store, long-simmered chunks of shoulder that managed to taste only, and quite frankly, of themselves. Most of my friends considered those carnitas to be rather too authentic, and even I was less than surprised when it was transformed into an informal post office. Selling pig parts is probably less profitable than shipping off-label electronics gear to rural Veracruz.
Still, it is easier to find decent carnitas in the area than you might think. The carnitas at the loncheria Tonny's on Orange Grove are reliably good, although of the crispy persuasion rather than the soft, porky consistency many people prefer, and the old-school Michoacan-style carnitas at the unpoetically named Mi Casa up on Fair Oaks are really quite good. In nearby Highland Park, Metro Balderas specializes in the style of carnitas popular in Mexico City, and on weekends you can get carnitas prepared from just about every part of the pig, should you be in the mood for tacos of snout, tongue or uterus, and why wouldn't you be?
But the carnitas I am craving at the moment, carnitas that are even now making me wonder why I had a basturma sandwich for lunch instead of getting in my car and driving to Eagle Rock, are the duck carnitas at Cacao Mexicatessen: duck meat simmered in pork fat until it nearly collapses, a shotgun marriage of traditional and European cooking techniques splitting the difference between carnitas and confit, tasting very much like duck but with a lingering presence that suggests the bird was cooked in pure lard. A duck carnitas taco is about as much happiness as $3 can be expected to buy.