Metro Balderas only serves carnitas on the weekends, but the Highland Park restaurant makes up for that by serving 8 different kinds. The most common type of pork carnitas served in Los Angeles is maciza, braised pork butt (actually cut from the shoulder). Metro Balderas serves maciza, of course, but they also cover less-frequented pig parts: cuerito (skin), trompa (snout), nana (uterus), buche (stomach), costilla (pork rib), oreja (ear), and surdita, which is a combo of all the above minus the Nana.
Metro Balderes also does something else differently: they don’t boil the meat. According to Street Gourmet LA, that’s a cheater method and the culprit behind the hard, stringy texture of so many carnitas that you come across. That problem is exactly what’s kept me from being the carnitas fanatic that I know I can be.
The carnitas at Metro Balderes are first fried in lard and then braised for four hours, leaving the them tender, moist and thankfully un-opressive. None of that flooded-with-grease, too-tough-to-chew, kick-in-the-stomach business. For $1.80 you get sizeable taco filled with meat. Two would probably suffice, but in the name of research, I ordered four. I decided to try two “easy” ones—the maciza and costilla—and two more adventurous options—cuerito and oreja.
Well seasoned and surprisingly lean, the maciza (pictured at the top of this post) was a new carnitas experience. More often than not, when you order a carnitas taco, you’re handed a tortilla full of fat and over-fried bits. This one had a good balance of lightly crisped, fatty edges and more svelt and tender chunks. The pork rib had similar appeal and a fair amount of cartilage. One of my dining companions was really turned off by this, but it wasn’t that much of an issue to me. I was too distracted by the fact that you could actually taste the porky flavor.
The pig ear was less of a triumph, but that has more to do with my personal taste than the preparation. The flavor was actually delicious, but I’m just not a fan of gelatinous meat textures going solo. The Cuerito (pig skin) had a sturdier texture, but I was expecting a little more crispiness. Conventional as it sounds, I would prefer these pork parts mixed with the other cuts.
Metro Balderas will be my go-to taco haunt for now on, and the pork rib and mixed carnitas will probably be my go-to tacos. You can only get the tacos Friday and Saturday, but all week you can order chilaquiles, egg huaraches, quesadillas with huitlacoche, pambazos and tortas. Plus, they have a big selection of bottled Mexican sodas, and that’s always a good thing.
5305 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park | (323) 478-8383
Hours: Mon – Sat, 9:00 a.m. 10:00 p.m. | Sun: 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Valentina Silva is a regular contributor writing about food and restaurants. You can also find Valentina’s reviews and stories on her new blog, Eastside Food Bites.