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A Beginner’s Guide to Offal Tacos by The Offalo ~ Part Two

11:11 AM PDT on March 31, 2015

offal_tacos

We've long admired the food writing and reviews of "The Offalo," an Angeleño who loves food and especially cuts of meat that others may be unfamiliar with. We asked him if he would be interested in exploring the offal side of our city's taco scene, and he jumped directly into the job, as you can read below. We hope this guide will help the uninitiated be bold and try some delicious tacos they ordinarily wouldn't have ordered, while also guiding those who do walk on the offal side some suggestions for where to get their fix....

Missed Part One? Click Here. Part Three is here.

A Beginner’s Guide to Offal Tacos: Part Two, Pork

Probably the two best known types of pork tacos are al pastor, marinated pork stacked and spit-roasted like shawarma (which it is derived from), and carnitas, thick cuts of pork slow-cooked in fat (lard or oil) like French confit. Though delicious, al pastor does not contain offal and will not be discussed here.

Taco de Surtido at Carnitas El Momo:

surtido_carnitaselmomo

While maciza, the pork butt/shoulder cut that is generally served as carnitas, is also not an offal cut, it is traditionally cooked together with offal and often served together as surtido, or assorted cuts. This means that the best places to find pig offal are at shops specializing in carnitas. Here are some of the porcine parts you can find on their menus:

Buche: Unlike cows, pigs just have one stomach, or buche, a relatively mild organ with a firmer outer layer and a more tender inner layer. A fairly common offal offering at most taco shops, it is usually chopped up into bite-size pieces before being served. It’s probably the least challenging of the pork offals.

Taco de Buche at Metro Balderas:

buche_metrobalderas

Cuerito: Most people have heard of pork rinds, puffy, crunchy, fried pig skin. Cuerito is the same cut, but cooked at a much lower temperature, rendering the skin soft and gelatinous, with a very rich flavor. Texturally, it may be off-putting to some, especially if it’s the only meat in the taco, but in a surtido with other cuts, it really helps meld all the ingredients together.

Taco de Cuerito at Metro Balderas:

cuerito_metrobalderas

Oreja: What? Oh, oreja are pig ears, slow-cooked until tender, though the ribbon of cartilage that forms the shape of the ear never completely softens, giving orejas a distinctive crunch and snap that I enjoy, but some may find unsettling.

Taco de Oreja at Metro Balderas:

oreja_metrobalderas

Trompa: Not to be confused with trompo, the vertical spit that’s used to roast al pastor, the trompa, or snout, may be the most challenging of the porcine offal cuts. Even when properly cleaned, it may still have bristles. It is more unctuous than the other cuts, and the texture is probably somewhere between cuerito and oreja.

Taco de Trompa at Metro Balderas:

trompa_metrobalderas

Chicharrón: While starting off as the same cut of pork as cuerito, chicharrón is deep-fried instead of slow-cooked, so it has a crunchy exterior. If there’s little fat or meat attached to the skin, it can be thin and light, like the pork rinds found in the chip aisle at grocery stores. If it has some meat attached, it can be like the smaller bags of cracklings that come with hot sauce at convenience stores. Of course, fried that same day or hour tastes even better. Some places leave too much of the meat and over-fry their chicharron, making them tough to eat. Others will crumple up the chicharron, which is my preference.

Taco de Chicharrón at Chichén Itzá:

chicharron_chichenitza

Other: There are many other pig parts that one can make tacos out of, and I’ve hardly tried them all. One that I really wanted to try, but have yet to, is nana, or uterus. I’d also like to try many offal cuts that I’ve had in Chinese cuisine, but not in taco form, including hígado (liver), riñón (kidney), and corazón (heart).

Taco de Chicharrón & Buche at La Isla Bonita:

chicharronbuche_laislabonita
Chicharrón y buche taco at La Isla Bonita in Venice. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

Where to Try Pork Offal Tacos: As mentioned, carnitas specialists are the best places to find other cuts of pork. My favorite place is Carnitas El Momo in South L.A. on Saturdays and Sundays, but check their Instagram for their full schedule. Their buche and cuerito are excellent, as is their carnitas! For oreja and trompa, Metro Balderas in Highland Park will hook you up; they will also have nana on occasion, but call ahead. My favorite chicharrón tacos is from Chichén Itzá; the pork rinds still have some meat on them but are chopped into bits for easier eating! I also like the chicharron at Venice taco truck La Isla Bonita, as it is the lighter and crispier kind, and all crumpled up.

Carnitas El Momo, Avalon Blvd & E 61st St, Los Angeles, CA 90003

Metro Balderas, 5305 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Chichén Itzá, 3655 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007

La Isla Bonita Taco Truck, Rose Ave & 4th Ave, Venice, CA 90291

If you have any other suggestion for places for great pork offal tacos, please let me know!

Read Next: Part Three, Variety. Previously: Part One: Beef.

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