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Dirt Dog Serves L.A.’s Best Michoacán/D.F.-Style Carnitas, After Giving Its ‘Kitchen Mama’ a Shot at the Menu

The recipe and technique behind Yanet Vazquez's carnitas are straight from Michoacán. But she says the sazón is pure D.F.

Dirt Dog taco de carnitas.

Dirt Dog taco de carnitas. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

You never know what talents people may have until you give them room to grow. Yanet Vazquez spent her life in the U.S. working in all the big brand kitchens, including Hometown Buffet, CPK, and BJ’s, to name a few. She performed every rudimentary task that faced her until she was let go during Covid.

Then came a development that would eventually allow us, the taco connoisseurs of L.A., the opportunity to taste her exceptional carnitas. All because Dirt Dog hired her, giving her a path to prep manager along with her own place to contribute in the kitchen.

Yanet Vazquez holding up a plate of her carnitas tacos in front of Dirt Dog HQ: Photo by Memo Torres

Vazquez was born and raised in D.F., Mexico City, but spent most of her time with her mom and grandma, who come from Michoacán, the state that claims carnitas as its birthright. The recipe and technique behind Vazquez's carnitas are straight from Michoacán, as taught by her mother and grandmother. But she tells us that her carnitas sazón is pure D.F.

When asked what precisely that D.F. sazón is, or what’s different about it, she struggles to put it into words.

“It’s hard to explain," she says. "It’s just more explosive, more vibrant. My mother always told me not to put too much of the ingredients in there because it could hurt someone’s stomach, but in D.F., that’s how they like their food, with a lot of flavor.”

Vibrant and explosive are perfect descriptors. Vazquez's skillful cooking technique is exemplified by carnitas that are perfectly rendered to a sticky and gelatinous touch. Juicy, tender, and meaty, with a colorful flavor that hints at citrus peels. 

Carnitas being pulled for a taco: Photo by Memo Torres
Carnitas Taco at Dirt Dog: Photo By Memo Torres

Dirt Dog, a hot dog chain with locations in Southern California and Nevada, was pinning big hopes on birria, seeking to add it to the menu just as almost everyone in L.A. has also been doing. But those ambitions were quickly put to rest during a birria taste test.

The owners knew Vazquez could cook and asked her if she could make birria. As the unofficial kitchen momma, she regularly cooks special meals for the staff. Her co-workers brag about her chilaquiles. But instead of birria, she made her family’s carnitas instead. 

I was invited to critique the chain's birria recipe, but Kenny, Dirt Dog’s head chef, asked Vazquez to also make her carnitas. When I was done giving Kenny constructive criticism, he asked Vazquez to bring out a taco for me to try, an unexpected surprise. I took one bite of glistening carnitas glory, looked at Kenny, and said jokingly, “fuck the birria; put this on your menu.” 

Well, they took me seriously and abandoned their birria efforts, at least for now. They’ve added Vazquez's carnitas tacos to the menu, and now Dirt Dog, crazy enough, has arguably one of L.A.’s top five carnitas thanks to her. These are truly incredible carnitas that draw their roots from Michoacán and inspiration from Mexico City, finding an opportunity to shine in one of L.A.’s local staples.

Order of Carnitas Tacos at Dirt Dog

Vazquez says that Kenny and everyone else at Dirt Dog has been very good to her, and she enjoys her position there. They’ve given her opportunities to grow, contribute and be herself, something she never expected to find at a workplace. But she’s a quiet and humble lady who still can’t believe her carnitas are that good, and this article may still not be enough to convince her. Sometimes, it takes a village to show someone their worth; for now, that village is Dirt Dog. 

PRO TIP: Ask for the Tragon special, a carnitas torta Vazquez and I made together using their lobster roll smeared with creamy guacamole and topped with her pickled onions. It will make your toes curl.

Memo's Off Menu Special: Carnitas Torta on a Lobster Roll

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