Restaurants & Bars

Chicago Area

Carnitas El Paisa


Restaurants & Bars 6

Carnitas El Paisa

Seth Zurer | Jan 24, 2004 07:04 PM

I've tried and failed to go to Carnita Paisa three times over the last couple of weeks, but today after a bout of Logan Ssqare apartment-hunting, managed to arrive at the doors of this pork paradise at a moment when the wrought iron steel gate was not chained shut. I think it's been stated before by carnitas luminaries on this board, but carnitas is a traditional morning meal. Carnitas el Paisa's hours reflect this: they are open from 7 AM till 6 PM during the week with slightly shorter hours on the weekend.

I had been once before on another errant afternoon, and the carnitas queen recognized me and welcomed me back warmly complete with wink and a friendly hand on the shoulder. She was having family dinner with the staff (which seemed to be mostly family) when we arived, and the waitress got up from her meal to help us whenever we needed it, and the one english speaking daughter intervened whenever it ooked like we were out of our elemet ("I don't know what they do when I'm not here" she said).

We ordered a little bit of everything, tacos of carnitas, barbacoa de cabrito and cochinitas, plus a quesadilla de sesos (braiiiiins!), some beans to dip our chicharron into, and an plate of 5 tight carnitas flauta buried under lettuce and unnaturally colored limp tomatoes. When we arrived we received a basket half filled with fresh fried tortilla chips, still glistening with oil, and half filled with litle chunks of crispy chicharron, plus out own condiment tray with salsa, limes, fresh chopped onion, cilantro and pickled jalapenos.

True to its name, everything on the menu pales in comparison to the carnitas. These glistening chunks of port and fat and caramelized tastiness are the stars. Next time, I'll order three carnitas tacos and leave it at that. The barbacoa was fine, but a little tougher this time than when I had it last, with less of the good tallowy fat mouth feel. The cochinita was better, little shreds of pork in a ancho heavy chili sauce atop a couple of fresh (hand made i think) tortillas. The flautas were a little underfilled and felt like they might've been sitting under heatlamps, and the quesadilla de seson was mediocre: the brains were underseasoned and the tortilla shell fried to toughness.

But none of that detracts from the immense pleasure of a visit to this restaurant, and the warmth of the owners and the excellence of the carnitas and the chicharron. I may try the posole or michoacan style menudo on another visit, but having tarried from the true pork way once, I would not build my meal here around anything but carnitas, which is also available by the pound at the front counter.

My favorite moment today came at dessert. The mumuu clad empress of piggery came up to us after we had finished eating and asked if we'd like dessert. "I have flan" she intones. "did you make it?" i asked. "Of course, I make everything!", "Then we'll try it!". It was OK, a little more scrambled than smoth and tougher than the best flan would be, but with a very pleasant burnt caramel syrup at the botom of the tin. The hostess came up to see how we'd liked it, i responded with feeling: "The carnitas were better!". And she smiled and she winked at me, as if she agreed completely, and laughed an utterly charming laugh, and coquettishly placed her hand on my shoulder my shoulder while sensually looking away and said "Oh You!" and flounced off with all the panache and pleaure in movement of a modern day Marylin Monroe. I love that restaurant!

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