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Meet ‘Carnitas Rogelio,’ The Family-Run Stand With The Best Michoacán-Style Carnitas O.C. Has to Offer

Michoacán-raised Rogelio Gonzalez slices the cuerito (the pig skin) in a checkered pattern to ensure a light crunch in each bite and utilizes every part of the pig, from the feet to the liver and intestines, which he binds together in a braid. 

Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

“¿Quiere un taco? Ándele,” says Rogelio Gonzalez, owner of Carnitas Rogelio, holding a taco in one hand while signaling to a new customer with the other. “Do you want a taco? Come on, here.”

The taco is loaded with his signature carnitas estilo Michoacán. The gesture finds Gonzalez graciously giving out a free taco to any new or returning customer, a tradition that his grandfather and father taught him that he has continued for the past 40 years. 

“It’s the way it’s done in the capital of carnitas, Quiroga Michoacán, where I’m from,” Gonzalez says in Spanish as he finely chops an order of cuero (pig skin). “People need to try the food, you know.”

Gonzalez is a full-time landscaper during the week and carnitas specialist during the weekend. But before starting his now-popular Carnitas Rogelio stand, he was frying up carnitas for a cause.

“My brothers and I committed to raise and donate money to help build a chapel back home, but people didn’t want to donate anymore,” he continues. “Y luego se me prendio el foco, and then a light bulb went off, and with just $300 that me and my brothers had, we decided to make carnitas to sell.”

At first, Gonzalez began to sell out of his brother's house in Santa Ana, with no social media presence, just good sazón and people’s word-of-mouth recommendations.

“I started making them every two weeks, then every weekend because the demand was there,” he says, still in disbelief that this would eventually turn into a business. "I would sell out and would have to turn people away because we would sell out fast."

The success of their carnitas allowed them to donate money for the chapel to be built. Gonzalez thought that would be the end of it. But the initial demand he discovered was only the beginning.

“People came back because I had stopped making them and they would say '¿Qué pasó con las carnitas?' (What happened with the carnitas?)” he recalls. “Because of my customers is why I decided to start doing them again.”

He would drive to his brother's house in Santa Ana to sell carnitas every weekend, and eventually, the 60-year-old decided to begin to sell from his own house in Garden Grove. That’s when Carnitas Rogelio was born, a family-run stand operating with Gonzalez’s wife and two kids in their backyard.

His son and daughter took on the role of marketing managers, both showing their father the power of social media by creating an Instagram page to proudly showcase his cooking. They post videos showing the delicate process and technique Gonzalez uses when making carnitas, from the preparation of the pig to the cooking process. 

“He doesn't really know how social media works so he was hesitant at first, saying he already had his clients," says Rogelio, Gonzalez’s son." But then we started doing more videos and he saw that new customers were visiting him. New customers quickly became regulars. It would be weird when we didn't see them every other week because our customers do become like our family.”

Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

Gonzalez sporting his iconic tejana, proudly stands next to his son and wife as he stirs the carnitas being cooked in his cazo.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

Gonzalez's 40-pound cazo (pot) was filled with the entire cooked pig and was drained of the pork lard in which he cooked it.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

The family's favorite saying is: “Come to Carnitas Rogelio, it's cheaper than taking a plane to Quirgoa for good-tasting carnitas!”

“Mis respetos (my respects) to everyone who makes carnitas, everyone has a different way of making them and I have mine and even if you go to Quiroga you'll find different types of carnitas,” says Gonzalez, standing next to his cazo, where the temperature skyrockets to over 100 degrees. “I myself make it different than what I was taught. I add my own twist to the original recipe.”

At their family-run stand, everyone plays an important role. Gonazlez is the chef, sporting an apron, t-shirt with his logo, and signature tejana. His wife creates the sides that accompany her husband's food: salsa, pico de gallo, and pickled chile manzano with sliced onion, carrots, and pickled jalapeños. Meanwhile, his son is in charge of heating up tortillas and charging customers as they come to pick up their orders. 

Mornings start early. By 8 A.M., Gonzalez has already prepped the pig and the carnitas are beginning to cook. 

Watching Gonzalez prepare and cook the pig is like watching an artist at work. His years of expertise shine through. He begins by sharpening his knife and then he goes in.

He is in no rush. In fact, he prides himself in taking his time, slicing the cuerito (the pig skin) in a checkered pattern to ensure a light crunch in each bite. Most importantly, he utilizes every part of the pig, from the feet to the liver and intestines, which he tends to bind together in a braid. 

“I never rush, so it usually takes me about an hour, sometimes two hours to cut and prepare the pig for cooking," he says proudly. "I can probably do it faster but I like doing things right and taking my time."

And the cooking process is as strategic as his butchering skills.

“Some people throw all the parts of the pig in the cazo (pot) all at once but I don't,” he says, pointing at the animal. “I add the parts at different times so that everything is cooked as it should be.”

One of the details that make Gonzalez’s carnitas so good is his welcoming personality and sazón, sure, but also the quality of meat he uses. A day before selling he hand-picks his pig from a meat processing plant in Lake Elsinore that specializes in fresh organic, Halal, and kosher meats. “Es la mejor (it’s the best),” he says. 

His backyard set-up is all shipped from Quiroga, Michoacán, too. From the 40-pound cazo and wooden block where he butchers his meat to the clear stand where he showcases his final product. It’s all 100% Michoacáno. 

“Es algo que me gusta,” he says as he lifts his knife to chop some ribs in half. “This is something I enjoy doing, I love cooking and when you see a customer eat a taco and savor it, that’s my payment right there. I already won. There’s nothing like that feeling”

Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

Gonzalez proudly holds up what's known as a Chamorro (pig shank).
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

The Gonzalez family assembles in their backyard in Garden Grove, the chef prepares the meat, his wife wraps the orders and their son charges the customers.
Photo by: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

For Gonzalez and his family, it’s about enjoying what they do and sharing that joy and flavor with customers. After all, some of their guests make the long drive to Garden Grove from Riverside, Corona, and Perris to get their fill of Carnitas Rogelio. 

“It's crazy, 'cuz we have a customer that comes from San Juan Capistrano and has ordered 30 pounds of carnitas,” says Gonzalez’s son. “They make the drive to come over here and that makes us feel good because if someone is willing to drive that far then it means we're doing something right.”

That Saturday of our visit, customers rolled in one after the other. Gonzalez and his son usually take orders via Instagram days before selling the carnitas. This ensures that no customer is left con el antojo (with the craving), should they sell out. 

Although Gonzalez does this as a side hobby, currently he is only selling every 15 days and only on Saturdays. However, he is considering doing it more often, seeing as the demand for his carnitas has grown significantly.

He hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar. For now, he wants to continue to steadily grow his business before taking that big leap.

“He deserves all the recognition, he loves this and you can see it, it’s also nice to have a family-owned business because it’s something that we work together and we have fun doing this, we enjoy meeting new people,” says Gonzalez’s son.

“We look forward to this, it doesn't even feel like we’re working and it's just nice seeing them enjoy the carnitas. My dad went from doing this for our family to spreading that same love and attention with the community we’ve built.”

Follow @carnitasrogelio on Instagram for more details on how to order. 

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