The New King of Pork
By Nancy Powell
Juan had the perfect excuse to open a restaurant. He had been cooking for his entire life, mostly for his parents (whose mother owns the Calimex Deli in Los Angeles), and so he decided might as well do something for himself. The result is Carnitas Don Juan, a red, white and blue-themed stand that sits in a converted Wienerschnitzel surrounded by blue-roofed auto shops, dirty white houses and colorful Mexican restaurants. Juan specializes in the kinds of homegrown foods (the eponymous carnitas) his parents have cooked and served for years at their own restaurants.
In the six months since opening, Juan’s reputation has centered on his carnitas, toothsome, bite-sized morsels of slow-roasted, juicy pork with hints of crispiness on its outer edges. Juan sells the carnitas a la carte for $7 per pound, but he also uses it to stuff street-sized tacos ($1.25 each) to over-flowing, which he complements with a topping of onions, cilantro and splash of hot sauce. The carnitas here definitively make the man.
Juan’s other specialty is his carne asada. Of all the meats he cooks up “at will,” the carne asada is arguably the least spicy, but Juan develops a nice crusty layer on the outside with plenty of flavor inside. The final product itself appears a bit dry, but dig into the underlying mounds of lean, shredded pork and one finds a treasure of moist, mouth-watering threads that reveal just how great and competent a hog-cooker Juan has become.
The fattiest dish off the menu belongs to the chicharrons, an incredibly well-seasoned serving of pork rinds. Juan whips up blissful and silky bites that melt in my mouth and leave a potent dose of heat on the palate. This street taco requires the sweetness of the very cinnamon-flavored horchata to correct.
The last taco Juan prepares for me is the al pastor, a Mexican-adaptation of Middle Eastern spit-grilled pork marinated in herbs and spices. This version isn’t so much from the spit as it is tender pieces of spice-marinated pork, made juicy with a bit of fat still intact to give the taco a deeper dimension of flavor to which Juan adds a small garnish of hot sauce, cilantro, onions and a slice of lime. The taco al pastor sticks to the teeth like none of the others do, but it does go down easy on the palate.
In addition to the standard staples of carnitas, chicharron and buche, weekends also brings on menudo, lengua and cabeza. On special occasions, Juan does deviate from his ridiculously-priced, tiny menu of tacos (all $1.25), burritos ($5.00) and quesadillas ($5.00) to create a superior shrimp cocktail. He layers his with jumbo shrimp, avocado, onions and cilantro and gives it his signature—filled to the brim, with lots of love from yours truly. You have to love a guy who knows no limits when it comes to making stomachs happy on a dime-sized budget.
Carnitas Don Juan, 1382 W. Holt Ave., Pomona, (909) 620-7480. Mon-Sat, 9am-9pm; Sun, 11am-5pm. AE, D, MC, V.