When a restaurant has PORK in the phone number, that bodes well. So does a menu that lives up to the phone number, a location near North Park’s craft beer-crazed establishments, and a mini pig mascot that’s kind of a big deal on YouTube. All signs pointed to Carnitas Snack Shack, a casual concept from chefs Hanis Cavin and Sara Stroud that promised a “Tail Waggin’ Good” experience.
Carnitas resides in the former home of a Vietnamese restaurant called Vo’s. The new incarnation allows customers to order at a window that faces the street and either grab-and-go or bring food to an open-air back patio with cedar walls, an overhang strewn with “icicles” and tables that sport decorative cross sections of bamboo. Since it’s rarely cold in San Diego, grab a seat.
Carnitas Snack Shack regularly features about 10 items on an erasable menu. We knew we were in for plenty of pork and reconciled to order one green thing. Good thing they fried it. Our Crispy Brussels Sprouts were remarkably juicy, deep fried in Canola oil, with crispy outer leaves dressed with spicy serrano peppers and squeezed with lime, which brightened up the sprouts.
One of Carnitas’ signature items is bound to become their Pork Sandwich ($9), which contained crunchy, deep-fried pork loin, juicy pulled pork, crispy bacon strips, and tangy pepperoncini-pickle relish on a sturdy roll from Hearty Bread baker Joanne Squires-Sherif in nearby Encinitas.
Shack Banh Mi ($6) arrived open-faced on a toasted roll with lard-enriched pork rillette, a butterflied link of coarse, juicy garlic jalapeno sausage, cilantro and three pickled vegetables (carrots, daikon and serrano peppers) that tried to tame the fatty hog meat. That didn’t quite happen, and the bread was a little denser than the usual banh mi baguettes, but the sandwich was still flavorful.
We couldn’t leave without trying the restaurant’s Carnitas Tacos ($7), which came on corn tortillas that held up to the heft of the considerable amount of meat, in this case, crusty shreds of pulled pork shoulder. They topped tacos with standard condiments like guacamole and pico de gallo.
Every plate came with a ramekin of creamy salad with cubed jicama, corn, peppers and more. This side had a little too much mayo, but it paired pretty well with the sandwiches. With tacos, not so much.
Carnitas Snack Shack is a fun concept that delivered hearty food at a high value. For a “shack” that hypes pork so much, they also offer some compelling salads that don’t even contain pig. It’s pork that brought us to Carnitas Snack Shack, it’s their range that will bring me back.