Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego, California. Tortilla Ladies make it look so easy. It’s probably because they’ve been stretching and rolling dough into perfect tortillas since their youth. Look through the windows. See how easily they handle the rolling pins? After all, handmade tortillas are the staple for practically every single Mexican dish. Not to mention, delicious. At Old Town Mexican Cafe, the food is authentic and has been for decades. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Take the House Famous Carnitas, for example. Crispy fried chunks of seasoned pork are served with chopped onion, leafy cilantro, smooth avocado, garden tomatoes, fresh lime, and refried beans. Wrap them up in warm tortillas right off the grill. Is it any wonder I never tried another dish? Yeah, they’re that good.
Dining Outside the Home: Monico’s Taqueria in Kapaa, Kauai. Change is good, especially when location is involved. Monico’s Taqueria moved up the road where they can serve more customers. Sitting on the outdoor patio at the edge of a coconut grove affords a stunning view of the mountains at sunset. Nice. Kick back, sip on a salt-rimmed margarita, munch on tortilla chips dredged in smoky salsa or homegrown habanero sauce. It doesn’t get any better than this. When the plate of fork-tender crispy pork carnitas arrive, you won’t want to share. Stuff the corn tortillas with beans, rice, pork, and guac. Fold over and bite. As the juices run down your fingers, don’t despair. Lick them. After all, it’s family. There’s no judgment here. The atmosphere is as down to earth as the food itself.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Something to Savor: Pan-Seared Pork Carnitas! What if I told you this recipe will give you the crunch of bacon and the tenderness of a roast? And what if I also told you there’s no shame in eating a plate of tender, super-crispy meat without tortillas and refried beans on the side? (It’s true. I actually had these pork carnitas for breakfast one day.) If you’ve ever ordered this house special in a Mexican restaurant, I challenge you to give it a try. I simply threw all the ingredients together before I went to bed and let the slow cooker do its magic overnight. The next morning, the aromas will drive you crazy! Be creative. Have tacos, tostadas, nachos, or simply eat them as is. I did, without regrets. Mmmmm.
PAN-SEARED PORK CARNITAS
7-pound pork shoulder, bone-in
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 tablespoon Hawaiian Rub*
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup pickled jalapeño peppers, sliced
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vinegar
Rinse and dry pork shoulder. Pat dry. Cover with olive oil. Rub in oregano, cumin powder, Hawaiian Rub, garlic powder, kosher salt, and black pepper. Place the pork shoulder, fatty side up, in a slow-cooker. Add chopped onion and jalapeño slices. Mix together orange juice and vinegar. Pour over all. Cover. Cook on Low for 10 hours. When done, the meat will be very tender. Remove the roast from the slow cooker. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Shred the meat using two forks, allowing some pieces to remain in bite-size chunks. Strain the juices into a medium size saucepan. Discard solids. Warm the drippings over medium heat to skim off the fat. Set aside. To serve, warm an iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Place shredded pork in the skillet and drizzle in a ladle of juices. Avoid overcrowding. Use a screen lid cover to eliminate splatters. Let the juices evaporate for 2-3 minutes so the bottom of the pork appears charred and crusty. Carefully turn over the pork pieces to cook golden brown. Overcooking will reduce tenderness and juiciness. Remove pork from skillet. Take a lime wedge and squeeze fresh lime juice over all. Garnish with cilantro. Leftovers may be divided into storage containers. Pour the juice equally over the pulled pork in each container. Freezing is also an option.
*Available through Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts. I receive no recompense for promoting their product.
Dining Outside the Home: Monico’s Taqueria in Wailua, Kauai! Word is out. The pork Carnitas Plate is unbelievable. It is so incredibly good, even the staff has no idea how Chef Monico works his magic. He begins with cubes of fresh, tender pork meat, seasoned just right, and then cooks them in a way that presents a crisp crunchy outside with a burst of moist spicy pork on the inside. It will practically have you rolling your eyes in delirium. Where’s the photo, you wonder? I forgot to take one. I got so excited when Megan brought the Carnitas Plate that I dove right in. But my husband ordered the Chicken Taquitos and said they were “Muy Bien!”