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Compton

El Tio Carnitas ~ Compton

6:39 AM PST on January 29, 2007

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El Tio Carnitas Restaurant ~ 1903 N. Long Beach Blvd. Compton, CA 90221 ~ (310) 635-3587 (Taco Guide)

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"Tio" is what my 2 year old niece calls me; though, for a while, everybody was "Tio". And lots of us are. When she intones those two magic syllables with a teethy grin, it fills me with a sense of mischief, and "Tio" becomes me. Today is El Tio Carnitas. Note the sign- a pig who's waving happily from inside a cooking pot is what any two year-old dreams of carnitas. CARNITAS spelled as big as a house, a long house. Inspired by taco compadre Daniel Hernandez, a devotee of carnitas who praises its consistent goodness, I entered the house of carnitas just across the street from the Compton Fashion Center.

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The colors on the outside of Tio's--yellow, orange, peach, green--absorb the harsh light of the sun baking their surface. Stepping inside Tio's, the light is luminous and soft. Sun shows from windows on all sides and from the skylights high above our heads. These high ceilings help cool the air inside and create a great room full of light. On a ledge under the image of Mary is a tiny bonsai tree. If it can respire, I can breathe. What catches my eye, though, is a loaded juke box, loved and stocked with all your favorites. But, how could I interrupt your favorite soap opera talking from the T.V!

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I think this is "Tio". He is certainly a rootsy gentleman who exhuberated peace and welcome. "Tres carnitas tacos, por favor." If you love to see your carnitas chopped down, look here and feel the sound of the chopping block shaped by stellar acoustics. "Tio" packs up three weighty portions of carnitas "para llevar" and the price is right.

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Would you take three tacos to go without eating at least one before you leave? To know what you're carrying? I begin with limes, juicy stones of citrus tang sprayed and juiced over the carnitas. This salsa is made with fresh ingredients, its fire water fully saturated with the sabor of tomatoes, chopped bits of serrano chile, y mas. All is held together by two deftly prepared corn tortillas- the perfect grip.

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Inhaling the juices of Tio's carnitas tacos, I scorched my throat with chile burn and instinctively closed the deal in my jaws with acute pleasure. The blend of lime, salsa, and carnitas juice is a mouth embracing flavor rush. Instantly you recognize the quality of this meat by its juice emanation. Experience the signature consistency of the carnitas. I like them tender with with crispy fringes, almost chewable, but not chewy. I wanted to suck the flavor from each bite as I ground it to bits in my mandibles. I was stuffed with two tacos and palmed the third to go. This G ride parked outside was not mistaken for my own junker. Perhaps it belongs to "Tio".

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Upon walking to the car, I was gladdened by the lovingly tended plants landscaping the beds around this gated parking lot side of the building. This area of Compton was farmland in the early 1900s. Maybe a pig who wallowed on this very spot was once happily cooked into carnitas. Carnitas El Tio feels rooted. Give thanks and praises.

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