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Mar 13, 2008 08:30 AM

Carnitas in Birmingham

I call myself a Mexican food junkie because I can eat it every single day. I have my favorites and rarely step away from them. But reading on this board about Dax's love for tongue and goat and such, made me want to try something new. Hey, you never know until you try it, right? So the other night I was out with a friend at a local Mexican restaurant, and saw that they had carnitas on the menu. I've heard others rave about them so I decided to be step outside of my box. I was completely blown away. Big chunks of juicy pork that had been seared to create such a flavor!!! Fantastic!! It reminded me of the brown bits you get from chopped pork barbeque. The meal came with beans, rice, guac salad, raw onions & tortilla. Was I supposed to cut the pork up and eat it like a fajita rolled in a tortilla or with a knife and fork? Also, since I'm obsessed with carnitas now, where are the best in town?

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  1. Carnitas are my absolute favorite.
    Where did you try them?
    Try carnitas at taquerias like Taqueria Mexico on Lorna Road or Taqueria Mi Casita in the Palisades.
    A good place to get them for home consumption is the Mercado on Green Springs on that plaza on the hill at the corner with W. Valley. They also make tortillas there. Gordos on Valley also sells carnitas meat that is quite good.
    Some Mexican restaurants fudge a bit and just do grilled pork bites, marinated in some kind of mojo. Not the real thing, although tasty. True carnitas are rendered slowly (I won't tell you how unless you really want to know) until all that pork fat flavor builds up and coats the meat.
    Eat them how you want, but the traditional approach is to just make tacos out of them. Order corn tortillas with your carnitas, spread some carnitas, salsa verde, pico de gallo, roll and savor.
    If you get the pork bites, then knife and fork work just as well.
    Man, I'm hungry for some now. Welcome to Club Carnitas, sleilal

    1. Carnitas and Al pastor are my favorite Latin preparations for pork so far. I try goat and tongue and all that but I will always come back to carnitas. It's basically Mexican pulled pork, although totally different in taste.

      This photoset is from a fellow hound's visit to Mexico (9lives, from Boston). Great carnitas prep and close-up pictures.

      As Big Daddy suggests, go to EL Mercado on Green Springs, buy una libre de carnitas and about an inch worth (stacked) of tortillas, ask for some of the free salsa verde (weekends only), walk over to the produce section, grab a few onion bulbs, some cilantro and a plum tomato or two if they look ok, plus a lime.

      At home, roughly chop some onions, tomato, cilantro and add in some salsa verde to make a salsa cruda. If you have a gas range, I grab a tortilla in a pair of tongs and lightly warm directly over the the gas, turning once, then layer two warm tortillas together, add some warm, (sometimes I crisp in a pan first) chopped carnitas, some more chopped onion, some cilantro, plus a little salsa cruda, spritz with lime, then enjoy heaven. Or I just eat with cilantro, onion, lime and the salsa verde. The perfect finger food.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Dax

        I have absolutely no spanish skills. Will I be able to communicate with anyone at El Mercado?

        1. re: sheilal

          I do the gringo point and dance. They are incredibly nice about my horrendous Spanish. If you see a little kid behind the counter, I think that might be his mom back there, he's about ... 12 or so, try to ask him. Otherwise, this always worked for me even though it's likely wrong/incorrect Spanish.

          1. One pound of carnitas - it's not really as much as it sounds and it's only like $6/lb. "Una libra de carnitas"

          2. For tortillas, I just say tortillas and hold my fingers about inch apart which gets you about a pound of them for about $1 or $2. I guess you could say "una libra de tortillas."

          3. The spicy green salsa (I recall you like spicy; I think you will love this -not super spicy, but perfect), which is in a plastic vat to the left of the carnitas (salsa is available on weekends only), is made with tomatillos. I refer to it as both "salsa verde" or "salsa picante." It's free and they just dump a couple of ladles in a plastic bag.

          Everything else (cheap vegetables) is grab it yourself. When checking out, they may chat you up in Spanish but my befuddled looks and "no habla espanol" convinced them that Spanish is not my forte. Again, very nice people, lots of smiles.

          You might also want to pick up some cheap, delicious queso fresco while there.

          After saying all of this, I might even show up again Saturday.

          1. re: Dax

            Are you speaking of Gordo's? (I know Gordo's has a mercado attached...and the sign out front says both Gordo's and El Mercado.) Anyway, we went during the week for chicken and barbacoa (lamb) tacos and they were perfection, for relative pennies apiece. And several types of salsa (verde and 2 v. spicy red ones, one that tasted smoky/mole-ish) were in a little salad bar, along with chopped cilantro, radishes, onions, etc., so the salsa is available there not just on weekends but during the week, as well. (If dax was referring to Gordos/Mercado.) I can't wait to try the Saturdays-only fact, that may be in order this weekend! And I hear it sells out quickly, so if you're going, go early. Oh, and they were very patient with my very bad spanish, and my boyfriend's semi-good spanish :)

            1. re: kbrandon7

              No, I meant the Mercado at the top of the hill at the intersection of Greensprings and Valley (per Big Daddy's comments). Up from the Autozone by Sabor Latino (I think that is the Mex. rest. next door).

              1. re: Dax

                At both Gordo's and El Mercado, you can get what you want with a minimum of Spanish. I've never even had any problem asking for a pound of carnitas or chorizo (the spicy Mexican sausage that also is worth trying), although I generally ask for una libra.

                There's always plenty of carnitas at El Mercado. Don't ever recall them being sold out, and I've been shopping there for about four years. Some of their prepared foods, such as tamales and pork in tomatillo sauce (both well worth trying) do sell out early.

                One thing that's always confused me about Gordo's: They bill themselves as a panaderia (bakery), but they don't sell tortas, that wonderful Mexican sandwich that uses the same fillings as tacos (carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor, lengua, etc.)

                1. re: Big Daddy

                  No kidding. I love me some al pastor torta; a well made one is a thing of beauty and deliciousness.