4233 Spring Street, La Mesa
On a corner lot in La Mesa, a block from busy I-94 and sharing a tight parking lot with a dry cleaner, stands a brightly colored brick house called Carnitas Uruapan Mexican food. Emphasis on “carnitas.” My dad started coming here in the late 1980s, but I had never tried it.
When I arrived, it was after dark and the place was jumping. A woman was cooking beef on a barbeque in front of the entrance and speaking Spanish into a cell phone. While she flipped the meat, patrons patiently stood in line for street tacos. There is also a drive-through, but it’s at a weird angle. Besides, going inside can be a treat for people watchers.
There’s plenty to choose from on the menu, such as rolled tacos and burritos. I ordered the carnitas dinner for two, which is one pound of lean pork marinated with fresh oranges, garlic, and spices, cooked in its own juices for eight hours or more, plus refried beans, tortillas, rice, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. The cost is $11.
While I waited for the order to go, a steady stream of customers came in and out, picking up pre-ordered food or waiting patiently at wooden tables, watching a TV on a Spanish station hanging on the colorful wall over the salsa bar.
The young woman at the counter helped me decipher a few items that I hadn’t heard of, such as carne divorciada. That’s fried pork belly with verde salsa separated by rice and beans. I should have known.
The state of Michoacán is known for its carnitas. The owners, Margaret and Rogelio Rodriguez, are from that region and established this restaurant in 1986.
When my food arrived I rushed home to try it, spreading out a handmade flour tortilla and filling it with the meat, toppings, and their housemade chipotle salsa.
The carnitas were tender and moist, encased by a crunchy, bacon-like exterior. I realized that I hadn’t had pork this good since Old Town Mexican Café (before the tourists discovered it).
The beans and rice were also good, with just enough chili and garlic powder, the flavor I’m used to from authentic Mexican restaurants. The tomatoes were fresh, and the onion was not overpowering. I had seconds on the pork and then, I’m embarrassed to say, thirds.