Carnitas Snack Shack (CSS) opened in early December and was apparently on everyone’s Christmas list because I haven't seen a shack attack this hyped since O'Neil's signature NBA stylings. A single-file assault streamed from CSS's ordering window, until the back of the shack became a waiting room of expectant parents, vigilantly searching for an order resembling their own to emerge. This informal dining room corralled its customers in a three-sided, open-air space with flaxen planks covering the walls and ceiling, as if the prize student in woodshop went all out for extra-credit on his final project.
Triple Pork Sandwich - breaded pork loin, bacon, pulled pork(pepperoncini/ pickle relish)
Get ready for three, count ‘em, three varieties of pork stuck between one bun. This might seem like a bit too much pig, but think again because this talented trio manages itself effortlessly - the Judy Garland of sandwiches...a star is born. The compact disc of schitzel-ed pork still sang sounds from the deep-fryer beneath a bed of shredded carnitas and closed with three bars of bacon. These hogs knew how to harmonize and the intermingling of juices brought a depth that gave this sandwich soul. And if swine was the soul, then bread was the heart.
These buns were the closest I’ve seen to “hard rolls” from back east, similar to Kaiser rolls, but with a little extra chew. Finishing it all off was a condiment more pickled than Judy herself - the pickle/pepperoncini relish (try saying that three times fast) had enough pucker to stand on its own two, vinegary feet, delivering crunch and acid all at once.
Carnitas were pouring out of their corn tortillas like a voluptuous woman stuffed in a dress a size too small. I couldn’t pry my eyes away from that meaty cleavage - aah-ooo-ga!! This shredded-pork-peep-show promised an eyeful and a mouthful, arriving barely dressed with a wedge of lime, pico de gallo and fresh guacamole. It was the pig at its prettiest – au natural. No lipstick needed.
Forgo the fries: Fries deceived with their seemingly well-seasoned coat of paprika and other spices, but lacked the most basic one – salt! Though I loved their old-school, presentation in a grease-spotted, brown, paper bag, I couldn’t get over them acting like such a carb-tease – arriving glistening and taunt, then becoming a bland, starch stick at the last minute. What a disappointment - I wish I had some salt to put in this wound (clumpy, weird-tasting ketchup didn’t help their cause).
Corn-a-copia: Every order comes with an unexpected surprise that isn’t your run-of-the-mill extra. A very simple combination of corn, jimaca, red pepper and mayo with a bit of acid works like a palate cleanser after all this pork.
Drinks: I believe they’re trying to get a liquor license, but for now, throwing back a bottle of black cherry soda or a Mexican Coke doesn’t seem too shabby.
The Whole Hog: North Park’s been needing a place like this, clearly - the line will tell you that. I don't think they expected such volume, but even when there's only a few people in line, somehow it still becomes like the DMV's unexplained time drain. If you're on a date, you better love the one your with because the wait can be brutal (though they do take call-in orders for pick-up and delivery). But choices like panzanella salad with bacon brioche, pork belly and even the occasional shank thrown on the menu for a Friday special make up for it. Their beef is banging too and the sliced, steak sandwich is quickly overshadowing some of its pork counterparts. Carnitas Snack Shack may have more kinks to work out than a pig’s tail, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t make a habit of hanging around this little piece of hog heaven.