Prefiero carnitas

When I lived in Prescott Arizona, there was a Mexican restaurant called Maya two blocks from my house. Under the name, the sign said ‘Fish Tacos’. At first, I considered this undesirable.

I later came to my senses. The fish tacos and shrimp enchiladas at Maya were superb. As good as they were, though, the carnitas beat them hands down. The carnitas at Maya were the perfect combination of crispy edges and tender, juicy middles. The sides of beans and rice were excellent, the salsa was exceptional, and the size of the servings was eminently reasonable.

You might not think that you could find good carnitas in Bloomington, Indiana, but you would be wrong to not think that. By which I mean that you would be right to think that you can get good carnita here. At Casa Brava, in fact, you can get an unreasonably large portion of very tasty carnitas for about $10 (109 Mexican pesos). The beans and rice are fine at Casa Brave, but the salsa leaves a bit to be desired. With respect to the Maya carnitas, Casa Brava’s are too heavy on the tender, juicy middles, too light on the crispy edges.

It turns out that you can also get a pretty good carnita taco at Tacos Don Chuy. Although the tacos at Tacos Don Chuy remind me of the food I ate in Mexico more than just about any other Mexican restaurant, they are strictly taco fodder. They are juicy and tender, to be sure, but they are too small to function as a main course, whereas the carnitas as Maya and Casa Brava arrive as the proud centerpiece of a (careful! hot!) dinner plate. Tacos Don Chuy has the advantage of a Taco Tuesday special, though – $0.99 (10.78 MXN) per taco.

Until recently, I was satisfied with my midwestern carnita fix. Some time ago, a Chipotle Mexican Grill opened up about a block from Tacos Don Chuy. Until recently, I thought, “Who needs a corporate chain Chipotle with Casa Brava and Tacos Don Chuy around?” (There’s a Qdoba Mexican Grill and a Moe’s Southwestern Grill in town, too, but the former is mediocre aside from the cheese dip and both have stupid names, so I will speak of them no more.)

Well, it turns out that Chipotle has yet another worthy variant of this exalted pork product (although their value is diminished somewhat by an annoyingly snarky sign concerning the pork’s former free range lifestyle). The Chipotle carnitas aren’t carnitas in the typical sense – they aren’t in any recognizable chunk form, but, rather, seem to be shredded post-roast. They lack crispy edges of note, but they taste fantastic.

I only ate at Chipotle after receiving a coupon for a free burrito. Two days after eating the free meal, I went back and paid full price for a slightly different version of it. Yesterday, I was back at Tacos Don Chuy for a carnita burrito. My dad’s visiting tomorrow, so a visit to Casa Brava – and an order of carnitas – is likely to be in my near future, too.

The moral of the story? Even if you think you have enough carnitas in your life, you probably don’t. Venture forth and find more.

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