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With Three Generations of Carnitas in His Blood, ‘El Pansas’ Is the Valley’s Newest Michoacán-Style Heavyweight

12:46 PM PST on December 10, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]rompos de al pastor and trucks dedicated to all things birria are as familiar to Los Angeles as the palm trees that soar above its taco-entrenched streets. But finding a taco spot that serves carnitas done in the stubborn, slow-cooked style of “la cuna de carnitas” known as Michoacán, where the specialty pork dish that’s in a class of its own, can feel like you’re asking yourself, “Dónde está Waldo?” 

    Adalberto Juan Pimentel III, “A.J.” for short, a 22-year-old Sun Valley native raised on his family’s carnitas, was disappointed with how difficult it was to find that real Michoacán style of pork in the city. “There’s not too many people doing it, and that’s even if you go looking for it,” according to Pimentel. He is alluding to the tendency of taquerías in L.A. to offer “carnitas,” but it is just quickly caramelized pork more akin to pulled pork—not true, confit-cooked carnitas.  

    Surprisingly, A.J. is right. Out of all the taco styles, there aren’t that many that practice carnitas done in the old school painstaking process. We have seen a couple of new carnitas specialists pop onto the food scene this year. For example, Carnitas El Artista, from the Hawthorne area, decided to take his family’s tradition full time and flaco immersed themselves in learning the craft and bringing their nuanced version, an ultra-savory carnitas-meets-French confit, to East Hollywood. Now Pimentel has decided to quit his day job as a Tireman to become the full-time head taquero behind Carnitas El Pansas, a new pop-up bringing cazos full of the golden pork to the East San Fernando Valley. 

    Adalberto Juan Pimentel III of Carnitas "El Pansas." Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.

    This new venture now makes Pimentel the third-generation carnitas maestro and the first in his family to sell it this side of the border. He tells L.A. Taco, “Everybody on my side, where I’m from in Mexico, that’s what they make their living from. They have carnicerías and carnitas stands in Tepeque, Michoacán.” 

    Fresh carnitas at Carnitas "El Pansas." Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.
    Fresh carnitas at Carnitas "El Pansas." Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.

    Carnitas remained a family tradition for the Pimentels in the states. Once a month, the family reunited over his grandpa’s copper cazo filled with fresh slow-cooked cuts of juicy pork shoulder, tender blankets of cueritos, and heaps of buche chopped into gentle bites. His grandpa passed away in 2003, and the cazo became a family heirloom serving the same family for three generations. 

    Salsas chilling on ice ready for taco action. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco.

    Now el abuelo’s old copper pot has a new purpose: to serve L.A.’s Taco Life. Pimental spent the last two years learning the craft from his dad. “I wanted to keep the tradition alive, and I have my dad helping me out.”

    The ultimate goal for the young carnitas revivalist is to give carnitas the respect it deserves; with one bite of this juicy taco, it will earn yours. The portions are as generous as the people of Michoacán, and the colorful salsas cut through the succulent juices like any good comfort food helps cut through the heaviest of times. 

    “I feel like nobody has really taken it to a level where it’s its own category of meat, like birria. You can’t go wrong with a plate of carnitas, you know? Just pork, fat, and deliciousness.” 

    The 22-year-old will be popping up in front of a Walgreens on the corner of Vineland and Victory Boulevard, just a couple miles north from his alma mater, East Valley High School. He plans on setting up from Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 6 PM. or until sell-out. All condiments are pre-packaged, orders are to go, and masks are required. 

    Follow Carnitas El Pansas on Instagram for schedule and location updates. 

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