Ode to the La Cabana Carnitas Taco (Santa Cruz)
I'm not really going to do it in verse - but I'm guessing someone on CH has tried it at some point...
Posting about carnitas is always something of a cr*pshoot, as even the best places seem to have a reasonable number of off-days when it's just not happening for them. That said, after years of sticking to the snapper and/or shrimp tacos at Taqueria La Cabana (which IMO are excellent) I've been really enjoying the carnitas tacos over the past half year or so. Thus, after dozens of carnitas tacos spread out over many months, I'm happy to report that the carnitas highs here are very high indeed, the lows are more than acceptable, and it's more common to have an experience closer to the former than the latter.
So what's my archetypal carnitas? First, none of this roasted or braised or however else cooked stuff that some people claim as carnitas - must a big chunk of meat sitting in lard that's then shredded. Must be moist and succulent. That's the bare minimum. But for it to be more than good, it has to have those crunchy bits, the exterior parts that have been fried to a nice golden brown.
La Cabana does it very well. Today it was spectacular, which prompted me to finally post. To go with the meat, there's a bit of salsa verde, some pico de gallo (although it might just be pico de gallo components thrown on together - tomatoes, onion, cilantro) and some fresh chopped jalapenos. A good squeeze of lime and you're good to go. Fresh, clean, spicy, rich and deeply meaty. Few things are better.
There are some who claim that the relative newcomer Los Pericos downtown does it better - my single experience there suggests it's OK, but nowhere near the standard of La Cabana. More sampling would be required to make sure of it, but nothing there made me want to go back to do so. And don't talk to me about Morenos - they're not even playing the same sport, let alone in the same league.
Taqueria La Cabana
2332 Mission St (across from New Leaf, same complex as O'Mei)
Santa Cruz, CA 95060