2632 University Avenue, North Park
The "other white meat" has been enjoying quite the golden age in American cuisine. Bacon, which has always been popular, has been elevated to iconic status, praised daily on Twitter and prevalent on bumper stickers and graphic t-shirts. The rise of Pork Belly and pig cheeks have given upscale restaurants the opportunity to codify entrees intended to please less nuanced palates, as if to say, "you want to order this, fatty."
Smack in the middle of San Diego's pork era sits Carnitas' Snack Shack, a street food kiosk that's expanded to outdoor dining phenomenon. Drive past at almost any hour of the day and you'll see a line. Call in a to-go order during lunch or dinnertime and expect to wait 25, 30 even 45 minutes for the tiny kitchen to catch up to demand.
Many days — and they're no longer closed on Tuesdays — worth it. These guys simply know how to cook meat. Pulled pork, schnitzel, hamburgers, and steak sandwiches are fixtures on their menu, along with a butter-like braised pork belly that showcases why some think the cut will eventually usurp bacon's top pig status.
Hopefully, San Diego has enough cardiologists to withstand this popularity. Especially if one of Carnitas' rotating specials catches on.
How do you take a decidedly not-heart-healthy food and make it harder on the arteries? In a word: poutine.
The Québécois dish has a few variations, but it always starts with a heaping pile of french fries, cheese, and gravy.
Naturally, Carnitas' version porks it up. Here the fries are topped with a cheddar cheese gravy, pulled pork and chopped bacon. It's heavy, it's decadent, and if your heart and stomach can take it, it's delicious.
But it comes with a side of guilt, like many of Carnitas' other dishes. These are foods that are meant to be eaten in moderation, and on its own merits alone, poutine may be seen as the opposite of moderation.
This is why I finally came around on another regular menu item. It's easy to miss, despite being at the very top of the menu most days. Because nobody's standing in line for fifteen minutes at the Snack Shack looking for salad, especially one called "beet terrine."
French terrine's are hardly part of a regular 'Merican menu, even when they consist of puréed meat and emulsified fat. Take away these ingredients, and what have you got?
In this case, beets, spinach and goat cheese with a balsamic glaze and a side of frisée. Call it a palate cleanser, starter, or side dish — it doesn't matter. The important thing is to order it to balance the absolute gut bombs gracing this menu.
This day I ordered a beet terrine and poutine to share; both were terrific and each of them of them made me feel better about eating the other.