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Boyle Heights

The 14 Best Carnitas Tacos in Los Angeles

Los Angeles County is a porker's paradise. We scoured every corner to bring you the most melt-in-your-mouth, sticky, slow-cooked carnitas all over. These are some of the best cazuela players in Los Angeles, including a handful that make handmade corn tortillas, too.

10:26 AM PDT on September 12, 2023

    Taco de Carnitas from Los Tres Hermanos Ramirez: Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco

    These are the 14 best places for carnitas in L.A.

    Carnitas are still the unsung hero of L.A.’s grand Taco Life, typically relegated to the second or third-string position at any given taquería where asada, al pastor, and birria take top-billing.

    Most Mexican restaurants that serve carnitas, but don’t necessarily specialize in them, tend to roast a piece of pork butt (a shoulder cut), then shred that meat, sear it on a flat-top grill, lay it on a tortilla with salsas, and call it a day.

    That is not true carnitas.

    Carnitas, at least according to the Michoacán-style, where the dish became popular, is when pork, lard, and salt are cooked, low-and-slow, in a cazo (a specialized cooking vessel just for carnitas), creating tender, caramelized pork that only time can achieve.

    Marinades (oranges vs. milk vs. Coca-Cola, etc.) are a contentious topic among the carnitas community. But no matter how it's made, you'll know when you encounter an excellent batch of carnitas as soon as you taste it.

    These are a handful of the best carnitas players in Los Angeles to get you started on your blissfully porky journey.  

    Photo via @eastloszamorabros/Instagram.

    ZAMORA BROS. ~ Boyle Heights

    Snuggled between a laundromat and dental office, you will find Zamora Bros., which has some of the meatiest and most perfectly gelatinous chicharrónes we have ever tasted, hands down.

    The family-owned business has a piece of chicharrón for everyone’s taste buds: Do you seek a piece that's less meat and all crunch? They have it. Do you prefer pieces that bear the perfect amount of fat on them? You guessed it, they have that, too.

    Zamora's pieces of salty pork belly are perfectly combined with a guacamole salsa, which adds some freshness to the hefty cut of chicharrón. For some spice, we recommend any of their salsas that not only pack a punch but are rich in flavor.

    And while you load up on their chicharrón, grab some of their famous carnitas with dessert because they also sell fresh pan dulce and pastries. One step into Zamora Bros., and you’ll quickly see why it’s so popular, with a bounty of edible options, including tacos, mole, guisados, and more, that taste just like home. 

    Location: 1559 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, United States. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 30 - “Pico/Union.”

    Open from Monday-Sunday, 6 AM to 9 PM.

    Photo via @r_and_j_travel/Instagram.

    LOS CINCO PUNTOS ~ Boyle Heights

    Since 1967, the juicy, rich, and tender carnitas at this classic porker’s paradise in Boyle Heights are braised in a traditional cazo (pot)—unlike many local spots where shoulder-only pork is boiled, then fried to achieve a golden-brown tint.

    Here, you can get the more approachable maciza (shoulder meat) or go whole hog into delicacies like cueritos (skin) and buche, either in tacos for your immediate consumption in front of a location that's legendary to its neighbors and cult-famous to everyone else from its appearance in Blood In, Blood Out. Or by the pound to bring to the party and impress her folks.

    3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90063. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 70 - “Cesar E Chavez/Indiana” or Metro E Line - "Indiana Station."

    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    DIRT DOG

    Hot dog chain Dirt Dog, crazily enough, has arguably one of L.A.’s top five carnitas, thanks to chef Yanet Vazquez. These incredible carnitas draw their roots from Michoacán and their inspiration from Mexico City, perfectly rendered to a sticky and gelatinous touch—juicy, tender, and meaty, with a colorful flavor that hints at citrus peels. 

    Various locations

    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    CARNITAS EL ARTISTA ~ Inglewood

    For true Michoacán-style carnitas, there are few options in the entirety of Los Angeles on par with Carnitas El Artista. Inglewood is fortunate to have this champion of confit pork, serving a family recipe for carnitas that is four generations old, stewed in traditional hefty copper pots for impeccable quality, and served with love and pride. Order pounds of these glistening hunks of juicy pork meat, with tortillas and salsa to complete your taco feast. Or simply order the carnitas by the taco and eat them on the spot.

    510 N. La Brea Ave. Inglewood, CA 90301. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 212 - “La Brea/Hazel” or Metro K Line - "Downtown Inglewood Station."

    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    CARNITAS TONY ~ (West Adams)

    Carnitas Tony is a local legend, even if his name isn't mentioned in cherry-picking L.A. food publications as often as some of L.A.'s other carnitas pros. If you want to try some of Tony's juicy carnitas, you'll have to get there early. They tend to sell out quickly, even without a social media presence. Only the power of community and good tacos propels the whispers about their golden pork in and around local ears that return for his cabeza, buche, and cueritos. 

    2601 Ridgley Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90016Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 37 - “Adams/Hauser.”

    Photo by Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    LA MANO ~ Pico Rivera

    “The taco is simple: classic, tortillería-issue, caramelized carnitas consisting of confit pork, shredded and served on a soft corn tortilla, topped with fresh cilantro, diced onions, and a squeeze of lime. La Mano is a mandatory Sunday morning stop to pick up a pound or two of carnitas, chicharrón, tortillas, and salsa, especially on a game day. – Yaileen Ramos

    9237 Whittier Blvd. Pico Rivera, CA 90660. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 265 or 266 - “Rosemead/Whittier.”

    A carnitas taco from Carnitas El Barrio in Los Angeles near the Watts station. (Brian Feinzimer for L.A. Taco)

    CARNITAS EL BARRIO ~ Watts

    When you run into a true carnitas specialist like Carnitas El Barrio in Watts and taste the magic of what simple pork, salt, and four hours of low-and-slow cooking in a cazo can accomplish, it’s an unforgettably precious, porcine moment of life.

    This truck sits in front of a public library and only carries one thing on the menu: carnitas. 30-year-old owner Jorge Cruz feels confident in his craft. Having worked his way up to launching his carnitas truck ten years ago, he sells out daily. Loyal customers have been returning ever since. If you want to eat carnitas like a pro, opt for “surtido” when ordering your tacos, which means a mixture of lean meat and the confit, caramel-like pork skin. 

    10205 Compton Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90002. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A Line - "103rd Street/Watts Towers Station" or Bus Lines 55 and 117 - “Compton/103rd.”

    Photo via @upnsmoke.elunico/Instagram.

    UP N SMOKE ~ South Gate/Lynwood

    Up N Smoke is a spinoff taco concept from Tacos El Unico that runs inside of their taquerías. You can opt for their carnitas in a torta—complete with a crispy cheese skirt adhering half of your bolillo—and, of course, on a tortilla. Since they are part of the El Unico family, you can count on the same full-flavored red and green salsas. BBQ and carnitas uniting into one smoky, juicy pile of meaty goodness is a partnership that makes all the sense in the world, and it was only a matter of time until someone thought to offer it in Los Angeles in taco form.

    Multiple locations

    Photo via @villamichoacana/Instagram.

    VILLA MORELIANA ~ Downtown

    In an ever-developing Grand Central Market, one of the biggest comforts is knowing that a taco at Villa Moreliana will still be overloaded with caramelized pork. Many stands have come and gone, but Villa Moreliana has withstood the test of time and food trends.

    Like any true specialist, carnitas is all they have on the menu, offered in all the ways, including tacos, burritos, and tortas. No matter how you eat them, an order is still one of the best values in downtown L.A. and will forever be.

    For some reason, they manage to taste even better if you manage to squeeze them in with your allotted lunch voucher in the midst of performing your civic duty for jury duty. 

    317 S Broadway Grand Central Market Los Angeles, CA 90013. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro B and D Lines - "Pershing Square Station", Metro A and E Lines - "Historic Broadway Station" or Bus Lines 4, 30, 40, or 45 - “Broadway/3rd.”

    Photo via @carnitasvalley/Instagram.

    CARNITAS VALLEY ~ Arleta

    If you are the kind of carnitas enthusiast who swears allegiance to “surtido” and nothing but, meaning you love your tacos with a 50/50 skin-to-meat ratio, then this street vending gem in the middle of the Valley is for you.

    Their cueritos (pork skin) melt-in-your-mouth like caramel. Combine them with the maciza (lean carnitas meat), and it is one of the better tacos you'll find in the Valley. You’ll also have to make the trip here to try one of L.A.’s rare carnitas tacos that come on handmade corn tortillas.

    14421 Van Nuys Blvd. Arleta, CA 91331. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 233 or 761 - “Van Nuys/Woodman.”

    Photo via @dberg2330/Instagram.

    METRO BALDERAS ~ Highland Park 

    Metro Balderas is a carnitas O.G. in northeast Los Angeles specializing in snout-to-tail carnitas on weekends only. So make sure to go then and not in the middle of a Monday. If you do, you'll still be privy to a menu full of Mexico City-style antojitos that are equally as satisfying, including pambazos, flautas, and chilaquiles for breakfast. 

    But when you order carnitas here, the world opens up. As you’ll get to choose between ribs, shoulder, tongue, snout, and nana, which we will let you figure out what part of the pig that belongs to. Either way, you can't go wrong.

    5305 N Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90042. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro A Line - "Highland Park Station" or Bus Lines 81 and 182 - “Figueroa/Avenue 54.”

    Photo via @carnitas_el_gordo_panzon/Instagram.

    EL GORDO PANZON ~ Hacienda Heights 

    Some of L.A.’s best tacos in this day and age come from Direct Message, or taquiza-only vendor, or an address that may change every weekend, like El Gordo Panzón. It's worth keeping up with their movements, assuming you love meltingly tender carnitas and super crispy chicharrones. Panzon is bringing such true, slow-cooked carnitas east of the east to Hacienda Heights. 

    Taco de Carnitas from Los Tres Hermanos Ramirez. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    CARNITAS LOS TRES HERMANOS RAMIREZ ~ Lincoln Heights

    On this stretch of Avenue 26, carnitas that could rival some of L.A.'s best are quietly being sold, taco by taco, pound by pound. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, this Tres Hermanos family pulls out its big steel cazuelas. Benches are set up along the fence, and a tent provides shelter on the sidewalk in front of their apartment building.

    Maciza, cueritos, buche, and ribs are on the menu. But do not, under any circumstance, pass up their chicharrones, in which crispy, seasoned pork skin barely holds tender bits of pork belly together to its frame. Structurally, it’s a perfect bite of chicharrón. It’s a recipe that stretches back home to Michoacán, where their dad is a carnitas professional. 

    Saturday & Sunday mornings only in front of 134 W Ave 26, Los Angeles, CA 90031. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 251 - “Daly/Pasadena” or Bus Line 45 - "Broadway/Daly."

    Photo via @azarkocovarrubias/Instagram.

    CARNITAS LOS ZARKO'S ~ Compton

    Compton's Carnitas Los Zarko’s is also in the running for best carnitas in Los Angeles. The family-owned business operates from their home and only sells on the weekends. You can call in for your order or sit in their backyard restaurant and enjoy their Michoacán-style pork, made fresh at 8 A.M. and guaranteed to make your mouth water and your body rock.

    Location: Contact them via Instagram @azarkocovarrubias.

    Open Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 AM- but call 562.415.5179 to make your order.

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