This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Death by hog

Orange County foodies have raved about the carnitas at CARNITAS LOS REYES for years—about the sublime fattiness of this shredded pork dish, about how cooks slam a cleaver into meat, stuff the carnitas into a tortilla, add a splash of salsa and create edible heaven. Not me, though: I've never liked carnitas, and though the carnitas here are some of the best I've tasted, that's like saying Janet Nguyen will make a better supervisor than Trung Nguyen. But the lines don't lie: pound for pound, the claustrophobic Carnitas Los Reyes just might be the best taquería in Orange County.

This is where you come to worship the gospel of the one-dollar taco, an increasingly rare find in this era of continued Mexican immigration and rising tortilla prices. And a buck won't get you just a taco-truck taco: Carnitas Los Reyes uses tortillas as thick as a copy of the New Yorkerand piles on the meat until it looks like a New York street-side gyro. Choose your meat—blackened, juicy carne asada, velvety tongue, the aforementioned carnitas, even the meat of a cow's head—it's all bueno. Two tacos will fill you up, and the meat that will inevitably spill out can make great impromptu nachos. There are tortas, burritos, and enchilada plates, but save those for next year.

Order the carnitas if you must, but I like my pork as chorizo, and Carnitas Los Reyes sells the best chorizo that isn't prepared by my Tía María. The chorizo is grated until it's as fine as salt, then cooked in oil that looks and feels like transmission fluid but tastes like a thousand spicy hogs. The obsidian-toned meat is gritty, and the flavor subsumes your palate with its thick coat. Only one meat is more flavorful than the chorizo, and that's the chicharrones. They sit baking under red heat lamps, which keeps its crispy, jaw-shattering texture from softening. Inside your mouth, however, the Carnita Los Reyes chicharrones transform into rivers of lard—so, so sweet but so, so filling. I don't know how anyone can finish a chicharrón taco—I could only muster three bites of one before nearly vomiting from sheer gluttony. In fairness, this happened after eating tacos of chorizo and carnitas, a trio that's perhaps the quickest path toward guaranteed unhealthiness—outside of rampant, unprotected sex.

CARNITAS LOS REYES, 273 S. TUSTIN ST., ORANGE, (714) 744-9337

 
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