Editor's note: Every Friday we'll be bringing you the best food in Chicago that has been battered and fried. As long as it has spent some time in hot, bubbling oil, we'll write about it for TGI Fry-Day. Got a nomination? Let us know.
My first experience at Carnitas Don Pedro in Pilsen was a little hectic. I showed up on a Sunday (their busiest day) with a one-year-old in tow. Using the stroller as a battering ram, we pushed to the back of the line before a quorum of the other customers took pity and ushered us to the front. Between trying to keep my daughter happy by feeding her bits of pork and moving the perpetually in-the-way stroller, I hardly had time to enjoy the plate of carnitas I ordered.
So after having a pretty solid carnitas torta from my neighborhood taqueria a few weeks back, I got a hankering to try the real deal again. But this time I did it right. The Monday lunch crowd meant that it was busy enough that they were serving freshly fried carnitas, but not so busy that I would have to fight for a seat. And my lunch buddy was my age this time, so I didn't have to worry about assembling his tacos for him. Nothing stood between me and satiating my carnitas craving.
The meal started with some gratis chicharrones, served simply in one of those paper nacho plates. The texture was light and crisp—worlds apart from the bagged pork rinds you get in Mexican grocery stores. The flavor was right on, too, especially after adding some of their terrific red and green salsas and salt.
The carnitas at Don Pedro are slow simmered in lard in barrel-sized copper pots before the heat is upped at the end to allow them to crisp. Since we weren't exactly aficionados, my friend and I attempted to order a pound and a half of just boneless meat, but we ended up being served two pounds of carnitas mixtas ($13.00), which was comprised of costillas (rib sections), suave (dark meat), pierna (white leg meat), espadilla (shoulder), buche (stomach), and cuero (skin). The plate was overflowing and slightly intimidating, but we dug in.
The carnitas were served with steaming tortillas, cilantro, and onion, the aforementioned salsas, lime wedges, and some canned jalapeños en escabeche that weren't worth our time. Apparently we were supposed to crumble some of the chicharrones over the top as well, but they were long gone before we started in. No matter. The meaty costillas had a satisfying crunch that made way to a meltingly tender center. The thin slivers of buche added a nice spring to each bite. And the cuero was simply lip-smacking; the scored strips of pork jello coated everything it touched with liquified collagen. Two days later, I'm still licking my fingers.
Next time I get a craving for carnitas, I may even bring my daughter again—if only to have a ready supply of baby wipes for afterwards.
Carnitas Don Pedro
113 W 18th Street Chicago, IL 60608 (map)