Taco Tuesday – Carnitas Snack Shack

carnitasCarnitas Snack Shack has been on my “must try ASAP” from the moment I stepped off of that transatlantic flight six months ago. A new darling on the restaurant scene, the Snack Shack serves locally sourced, pork-centric tacos, sandwiches and small plates from a window-front stand at University Ave and Oregon St. in North Park. They also stock plenty of local craft beer, so if you are not in a rush after ordering, settle into the picnic tables set up around back, admire the garden beds, soak up some sun and stay awhile.snack shack earlyI snuck out of work a bit earlier than usual a few weeks ago to meet friends here to finally taste what the buzz was all about. I arrived a bit early – they had pups to pick up at home, as the Snack Shack patio is extremely dog friendly. There was no line when I got there – around 5:30 or so – and I was able to order a Green Flash Trippel to tipple while I waited in one of the few tables still getting direct sunlight in the garden area.beer and sunshineOnce the rest of the crew arrived, we worked out a plan to try as many things on the menu as possible. I ordered the carnitas tacos (of course!), M ordered the specialty of the house, the Triple Threat sandwich and H rounded out the main courses with steak flautas. Additionally we agreed to split the pork belly appetizer and an order of fries. I am getting the idea that my friends delight in having this blog as an excuse to order almost everything on the menu (we did skip a vibrantly colored and delicious looking beet and goat cheese terrine).back gardenWe were lucky in our timing – within about 10 minutes of putting in our order, the line outside of the solitary window to pork-goodness started forming and snaking rapidly up the street. While we waited we helped ourselves to water – both in glasses and in a graciously provided doggie bowl. Thankfully, our food was also first out of the kitchen and it was not more than 15-20 minutes before we had a steaming, smoky feast set before our eyes (and watering mouths), while the newcomers watched with hungry anticipation.salsasThere was no order to the service – our pork belly and fries came delivered with everything else, and we immediately started to divide things into threes such that we could all get a taste. H had also noted that the Snack Shack purchases locally crafted salsas, which were available upon request (and were delivered quickly). We started to pass the plates around and the universal indication of tastiness – silence – settled around our table.carnitas2First, the tacos (it is Tuesday). There is a reason that the entire restaurant is names for this dish alone. The carnitas themselves were incredibly tender, smoky and moist, but retained that spicy crust from a high heat sear along the outside edges that provides a satisfying crunch before each bite melts in your mouth. The tacos were piled high with meat and garnished simply with fresh avocado, a heaping scoop of homemade pico de gallo, lime and a side of corn slaw. Together, the flavors created what is now my favorite carnitas in San Diego – it really is that crispy roasted outer edge that gets me every time.  The serving was more than enough to fill my belly, but with four more dishes on the table, I had to keep tasting. Yup, life is hard.flautasAlthough we tried to love them as much as the tacos, we all agreed that (despite being talked up by the man behind the ordering window) the beef flautas were our least favorite of the bunch. The steak was cooked medium-rare and had great flavor, but compared to the slow roasted pork in the other dishes that melted in our mouth, the somewhat chewy hunk of meat took an immediate back seat. The fries were also not necessary – not in the scope of our meal, certainly – but also in general. They were great fries – thin, a well-balanced combination of crunch and steaming soft potato –but given what the Snack Shack does so well (pork), there is no reason to order anything else.triple threatSpeaking of which, let’s get back to the pig. Our collective tie for first place was split down the middle (one vote for each and me, undecided) between the Triple Threat and the pork belly appetizer. The Triple Threat sandwich is a study in absolute excess, featuring pulled pork topped by schnitzel topped by bacon, with a schmear of house aioli and a pickle/pepper relish, all sandwiched between a buttery bun. I think, before tasting it, we all expected it to be too much – too rich, too fatty, too much everything. It was definitely rich and over the top, but not grossly so. In fact, the meats harmonized much better than I expected and the crunch and vinegar heat from the relish went a long way through cutting through the heft. It was, simply, super – not at all a gimmick, but a seriously good sandwich that I would not hesitate to order again (and encourage others to do the same).pork bellyThe pork belly was a completely different type of decadent. Seemingly somewhat out of place on a menu of finger foods, this slab of pork belly had clearly been braised for hours and was served coated in a thick sweet-spicy glaze and tart apple lemon slaw. The tender meltiness of this dish put even the carnitas to shame and the sauce, possibly a bit too cloying at first, grew on us until we were dipping the salad greens in it as well, so none would go to waste. We all devoured the belly immediately after its initial tasting – there was an instinctive competitiveness, even among friends, because we all knew without saying that if you didn’t get your fork in for another bite now, you would be left behind (and belly-less). Both M and H went in for the last bite at the same time and there was some very careful negotiation to decide who would actually taste victory.puppiesCompletely stuffed and leaning back in our chairs, we took some time to digest, catch the last of the sunlight and comfort the dogs who looked up at us with such longing that it was clear they knew exactly what was going on table-side. After groaning our approval and commenting on our bulging bellies, M and I were shocked when the server returned, cleared our plates (and remaining fries) and plopped down a foil-wrapped surprise in the familiar shape of an ice cream sandwich. H had ordered it behind our backs and he unwrapped it with the excitement of a little kid experiencing the ice cream truck for the first time.ice creamSandwiched in between two chocolate wafer cookies was vanilla ice cream studded with toffee and bacon chips. The server assured us that it was made by  a visiting guest pastry chef and that it was not to be missed. I am, oddly, without a sweet tooth or a fanatical love of chocolate, so I do not think I would go as far as claiming this cookie confection to be an essential component of a Snack Shack meal; but it was a pleasant, cool, salty-sweet treat that rounded off the meal nicely.snack shack lateWe departed shortly thereafter, letting the dogs say goodbye to the neighboring tables and skirting the line that had continued to replenish throughout our meal, now stretching halfway up the block. Restaurants that serve food as fresh and tasty as the Snack Shack make it incredibly difficult to branch out and try something new  – I am already looking forward to the opportunity to drag The Bat & Co. here for a late afternoon Sunday supper. In the local scene, what I am saying is nothing new and I am only adding my voice to the chorus of Snack Shack lovers, but it is always worth sharing a place worth your time, taste buds and hard-earned dollar.

Carnitas Snack Shack

2632 University Ave. 

San Diego, CA 92104

619.294.PORK (7675)

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3 responses to “Taco Tuesday – Carnitas Snack Shack

  1. Oh, I think I’m going to head straight to bed after seeing this so that I don’t go in the kitchen. I’m hungry and that looks delicious.

  2. Pingback: Opening Up (Whole30, week 1) | Researching San Diego

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