As glorious and delicious as they are, carnitas can be intimidating. Walk into any of the most well-known carnitas places in Chicago, and you won't see a menu or be given a rundown of the daily specials. Instead, you'll be asked how many pounds of fried pork you want. Vegetables? No chance. Not completely and utterly starving? Doesn't matter. Plan the event right and you'll have an unparalleled feast, but if you don't want to spend the rest of the day in a pork-induced coma, it might be best to stay away.
Luckily, Carnitas Uruapan in Pilsen solves that problem by offering a carnitas taco ($2.29) on its everyday menu. So while you can go the by-the-pound route (which is still pretty cheap), two or three carnitas tacos will do for a very filling lunch.
And what pork this is. If, unlike me, you remember to specify if what part of the pig you'd like, you can get a taco full of deliriously fatty cuts. But even if you forget, you're still in good hands. Usually the leanest parts of the pig dry and tough, but not at Carnitas Uruapan. Here the meat is tender and juicy, but not greasy, while the edges are crisped up and brown. You can tell they care about the product.
It also helps that the tacos are served with two excellent table salsas, along with pickled jalapeño chiles. My favorite was the dried red chile salsa, which had a slight sweet backbone, tasting sort of like a Mexican barbecue sauce. But I also liked a little spoonful of the chunky tomato salsa.
Carnitas Uruapan obviously knows its strengths. As the many hilarious and colorful cartoon pigs around the shop prove, this place has an obsession with pork.
Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant
1725 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60608 (map)