FEAST I was raised on carnitas. When other babies gummed pacifiers, I sucked on pork, and loved it. After my teeth came in, I remember taking the three-hour (round trip) drive from my hometown of Ventura, Calif. to my dad's gold standard for carnitas: the Burrito Inn in Hawthorne. Those were so good they were worth braving the 405 for.
You can understand then, how the first time I tasted my very own San Francisco gold-standard carnitas is a tale that I'll oft retell to my future (pork-plumped) children.
It was love at first bite between the carnitas tacos and me at Taqueria San Jose. I love these tacos so much that during the infancy of my soul music-spinning career, my ex-boyfriend dubbed me DJ Carnita due of the alarming frequency with which those carnitas found their way to my mouth. The name stuck, like fried pork to your ribs.
Great carnitas, much like great men, must be soft and juicy on the inside, crunchy and hardened on the outside. If you are ever served carnitas that do not meet these qualifications, you have been duped. Please accept my condolences — but let's not let it happen again. Here are a few of my favorite places to grab a fistful of shredded pig meat in SF.
CARNITAS ON WHEELS: EL GALLO GIRO TACO TRUCK
The progenitors of our street food scene, Mission District taco trucks are great places to find tasty carnitas, and El Gallo Giro has the best of the best. For $1.50 you score meat so crispy, you may think you got chicharrones by mistake. Tacos come topped with salsa, onions, and cilantro, and garnished with radish and lemon, which qualifies as a side salad as far as my carnivorous mind is concerned. Fair warning, you may get concerned looks from the parents at the playground across the street over the occasional moans and happy expletives that these carnitas induce.
Treat and 23rd St., SF
CARNITAS FROM THE STORE: LA PALMA MEXICATESSEN
Pretty much everything that comes out of this 60 year old 24th Street institution is top-tier, and their carnitas are no exception. They can be bought by the pound for you to take home or packed into a taco or sope. This is also one of the rare instances where I recommend carnitas any way other than their pure (i.e.: taco) form because La Palma's killer refried beans and house-made tortillas make for one hell of a burrito. Not that you should need anything but my word to convince you of their quality, but these also happen to be the favorite carnitas of nightlife magnate, noted foodie and expert on all things pork, Juanita More.
2884 24th St., SF. (415) 647-1500, www.lapalmasf.com
CARNITAS BOURGEOIS: NOPALITO
I cringe whenever I hear anyone rave about the food at a restaurant that has appropriated what is already cheap, plentiful, and delicious by adding a few adjectives, organic ingredients, and upping the price. For this reason I avoided Nopalito successfully — until I was forced in the door for a friend's birthday and begrudgingly ordered my favorite dish. I was openly praying to be underwhelmed. I was not. These carnitas are damn good, in fact, and you can order them with a cocktail which sort of seals the deal for a boozebag like me. FYI, everything I just said also applies to Tacolicious.
306 Broderick, SF. (415) 437-0303, www.nopalitosf.com