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Where Are The Best Carnitas in Los Angeles? Taco Task Force Investigates

With all of the Jaliscans, Capitalanos, and Michoacanans here in Los Angeles you'd think we'd have some better carnitas. Carnitas are various pork parts fried in pork lard; while it's done all over Mexico, the predominant styles are from Michoacan, Jalisco, Mexico City, San Francisco de los Romo in Aguascalientes, and in the Bajio (eastern half of Michoacan, and all of Queretaro and Guanajuato) region of Mexico. Outside of these regions, carnitas are usually prepared by artisans from Mexico City, Michoacan, and Jalisco.

A carnitas Taco Task Force run was looking hopeless last year; there just weren't enough solid locations to even make the minimum 5 stops, and nothing outstanding besides Metro Balderas. We all love carnitas, and you can usually do pretty good even with the carnitas found around LA using the cheater method-- boiling the pork in water and frying them up before serving. This cooking style is like the kind you get at Olvera St. or just about any Mexican-American restaurant around town. The texture is stringy, but the flavor can be passable, often times more attractive than having dry carne asada.

Taco Task Force Mission: We are here to rate tacos without prejudice, and give this culinary treasure its proper due. We are the antidote to amateurish taco blogs, we are a tacoligarchy.

For this mission we expanded the Taco Task Force from the original cast: Josh "el guapo" Lurie,Matt "el chico paletero"Kang, Cathy "la risa" Danh, Javier "el flaco" Cabral, and I "el jefe", to include new TTF draftees:Eddie Lin, Zach Brooks, Valentina Silva, Jo Stougaard, and David Lieberman.

On January 22,2011, the TTF members reporting for duty were Josh Lurie (JL), Matt Kang (MK), Zach Brooks (ZB), Valentina Silva (VS), Dave Lieberman (DL) and his wife Linnea (LL), and I (BE). Our control of the day was the taco surtido, a mixed carnitas taco consisting of either all the available parts of that taquero or the taquero's personal preference. This typically includes muscle tissue like shoulder or rib, combined with skin, and various offal.

We scored each taco on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the highest score in the categories of Grade of Key Ingredient, Condiment/Tortilla, Overall Flavor, and Cooking.All scores were averaged to reach the Overall Score. We made 5 stops that day representing the popular, established, and new restaurants/stands/trucks that have a specialty in carnitas.Who has the best carnitas in Los Angeles?

Coming in at #5 on our list is Carnitas Michoacan #3

Carnitas Michoacan is a well-known chain with over 30 years experience here in Los Angeles; famous throughout the talk forums for their Michoacan-style carnitas.

They claim to have over 5 zillion sold, for this accomplishment, they should be charged with senseless mass porkicide. These are hardly Michoacan-style; more Elks Lodge banquet hall style, employing the cheater method of boiling then frying prior to serving. They only have shoulder, no other parts available. The texture is bad enough, but combined with a strange-tasting, dry pork, my interest died after the first bite. It wasn't a surprise that these were so bad, but its popularity made Carnitas Michoacan a necessary stop, one of the many hazards of TTF duty. This is a "don't go" place.

Carnitas Michoacan #3
741 S Soto St
Los Angeles, CA 90023
(323) 266-7188

OVERALL SCORE 1.768/5

At #4, Carnitas El Tio, a new discovery for the TTF

Carnitas El Tio looked promising with its lil' piggy logo and cool a-frame building down in Compton, but it proved to be just ok. Despite the fact that they've been around since '94, they've curiously remained more of a local joint. The boil then fry method is again employed here to mediocre ends. The flavor was good at first, then just vanished, and there was some dryness in this taco.There was also a funny aftertaste that I couldn't quite place...these carnitas are just OK, but I don't see coming back here again, local it shall remain.

Carnitas El Tio
1903 N. Long Beach Blvd.
Compton, CA 90221
(310)4938126

OVERALL SCORE 2.89275/5

Coming in at #3, Los Cinco Puntos still kicks it Old School

Los Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights is an institution where carnitas are cooked in traditional cazos(large metal pots), and are fried in lard. There's always a line here for their East LA style thick-corn tortillas, tamales, roasted lamb heads, and carnitas. They've even got a damn good moronga, blood sausage. The taco surtido contained ribs, and hog's maw, a good combination that was more dominated by the hog's maw, not a bad idea since the rib was a little chewy. Los Cinco Puntos also has tripe, tongue, shout, and skin available for carnitas. Here I would stick with the offal and skin tacos. They have a great jalapeno salsa,too, and drop nopales come standard on your taco. After all these years, Los Cinco Puntos still delivers.This is a solid carnitas taco

Los Cinco Puntos
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 261-4084

OVERALL SCORE 3.48175/5

Our carnitas runner-up, at #2, Metro Balderas

Metro Balderas has 10 years in the carnitas game; their original branch still stands in Northridge. We stopped at their better known Highland Park location to sample their Mexico City style carnitas. Mexico City is all about the offal, here you can even get a pig uterus taco. The surtida had uterus, hog's maw, snout, rib, shoulder, and ear.These tacos are strong in their saltiness and pork flavors, and they have a pleasing texture from traditional cooking in a cazo. It doesn't hurt that they have amazing salsa, the best of the day for the TTF.

Metro Balderas is a sure bet if you're in the mood for top-notch carnitas in LA.

Metro Balderas
5305 N Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 478-8383

OVERALL SCORE 3.6785/5

And, introducing the #1 carnitas in Los Angeles, Tacos Los Güichos!

Tacos Los Guicho's weekend carnitas were a recent discovery of mine. Here the truth in cooking is revealed to all, slow cooked pork in a bubbling bath tub of lard. The surtida had ears, lips, hog's maw, shoulder, and rib. The cooking here is careful, and this is the only place that excels in all parts, from offal to muscle tissue. Los Güichos is another Mexico City-style carnitas location, superior in a balanced pork taste, and with great condiments to finish your tacoing in style.

Tacos Los Güichos
carnitas on the weekends only from 8am 'til they run out
regular menu 7 days a week
southwest corner of Slauson and Avalon
Los Angeles, CA

OVERALL SCORE 4.036/5

Stay tuned for more Taco Task Force missions, to bring you the best in tacos here in LA and beyond.

This article was reprinted with permission from StreetGourmetLA, which has additional images, expanded ratings, and more!

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