RST wondered the other day why Pilsen cannot buzz anew the way say Chinatown has grown in recent years (especially the finally vibrant Chinatown mall), or remain an ethnic hotbed the way Greektown or Taylor street have stayed active with resturants and shops even as the areas have diminished as residential areas. I cannot fully answer that, but I think the big difference is shear amount of Mexicans in Chicago, and also the continued influx of Mexicans into Chicago. Essentially, Pilsen just does not hold that point of entry designation the way that Maxwell street does for Jews or Bridgeport has for Irish.
Anyway, a long introduction to the discovery of a very good Michoacan carnitas place outside of Pilsen in the Logan Square area.* I was driving on eastbound on Fullerton yesterday and noticed the large Carnitas El Paisa sign. It seemed new. So I stopped on the way back. It turns out that Carnitas El Paisa as an establishment is well established, but they recently moved to a new storefront with bigger sign.
I asked for a menu. Not much too it, and in fact later when I again asked is she had a menu to take home, she told me, "What do I need a menu for, I make carnitas, cochinitas, and barbacoa." In other words, is that so hard to remember Mr. VI? Well, there are a few other things on the menu including pozole and chicharron en salsa.
She explained to me that cochintas was a pork in a sauce similiar but not quite like mole. The pozole, available daily, could be had with a varity of meats including lips (it sounded better in spanish). I just got the house speciality carnitas. It sits in a big pan near the window but protected by, like, mosquito netting. This pork cooked in its fat is a bit like a southern pig roast, there are chunks from all parts of the animal, including some of the more chewier parts. You can get things fattier or lean, with or without bones--like Mexican rib tips! For fifty cents extra, I got a big cup of salsa. She also threw in a giant piece of chicharron on the house.
It is one of those salsas that hardly looks moving because it is a dull, thick red. Until, you realize the dominant ingredient is a dried chili pepper, rehydrated and pulverized with a little cilantro and onion. The seeds are there too for more power. The stuff was strong, but the Condiment Queen accidently ate a chunck of pepper and that was really strong. She swore there was a hole in her tounge. The meat and pork skin had enough pork fat flavor, but the salsa married so well too.
I look forward to eating in, perhaps trying some of the other Michoacan specialities. The woman running the show, as you can probably tell, was warm and wonderfull. We traded language tips and she showed me how to pronounce Fullerton in spanish. Still, carnitas travels well, the meat stayed warm for about an hour in its wrapping. The meat also went as well with some leftover Italian bread as it would have done with tortillas.
Carnitas El Paisa
3529 W. Fullerton
*I am potentially changing my opinion on Logan Square. As RST says, how do you define Logan Square. If one uses the actual square, which is more of a circle as the center-spoke, and measure what is nearby, then I still think that Logan Square is not as good as it could be, but if you jute down Fullerton past Kimball, there is some interesting places including a corner with Columbian and Peruvian places on each side of the street (I'll write up sometime). My failure to know Carnitas El Paisa until they installed a larger sign is an example of my inability to really know what I talk about.