Carnitas' Snack Shack
2632 University Ave San Diego, CA 92104 (map); 619-294-7675; carnitassnackshack.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: An expertly grilled burger that's easily one of the tastiest new entries in town
Want Fries With That? Yep! Tasty golden brown fries tossed with Baker Shake seasoning are a must
Price: Shack burger, $8; fries, $2.50
Notes: Closed on Tuesdays
It's hard not to immediately love Carnitas' Snack Shack. The new North Park eatery has all of the best qualities of a food truck, including a well-crafted menu of tasty, seasonal items, with none of the downsides (it stays in the same spot and there is proper seating). It's also open late, offers delivery, and there's a giant pig on the roof.
Co-owners Sara Stroud and Hanis Cavin named the restaurant after their pet mini pig, whose adorable antics have been captured in several YouTube videos, including one where he polishes off an ice cream cone.
"Pork-centric American cuisine" is the restaurant's focus, but among tempting options like pork belly burritos, BLTs, and pulled pork sandwiches is the Shack Burger, made with fresh ground beef, bacon jam, white cheddar, and aioli.
It's a hell of a burger. Between the special-order kaiser roll from Hearty Bread is a hand-crafted patty made from a proprietary blend of fresh-ground chuck (with some brisket mixed in) delivered every two days from Hamilton Meat. On top are two slabs of juicy tomato, butter lettuce, 18-month aged Cabot white cheddar, smoky bacon jam, and aioli. Overall, the bacon jam does give the burger a sweet character, but the sharp cheese and aioli balance it out. It's different in a good way.
Where this burger leaps ahead of the competition is in its execution. Expert grillmanship resulted in a patty crusted with delicious flecks of char on the outside, while the inside remained saturated with savory beef juice. If you're like me, and prone to outbursts of profanity when eating something delicious, you're going to want to make sure there are no small children present.
Burgers come with a small side of complimentary sweet corn, but fries will cost you a bit extra. It's worth it. The generously portioned, lightly browned spuds are full of soft potato fluff on the inside and dusted with a thin coating of Baker Shake seasoning on the outside. It's a subtle, yet addictive addition.
I wasn't early enough to sample the pulled pork poutine, which is served with white cheddar gravy, but I hear it's delicious (though not the least bit traditional). The poutine isn't a steady menu item, so the best way to find out if it's being served on a particular day is to check the website.
After reviewing 50+ burgers, I'm difficult to impress, but this little piggy wowed me. Stellar ingredients combined with rockstar grillmanship make it one of the city's best new entries.
That'll do, pig. That'll do.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego, including all things sweet and sugary, for her dessert blog San Diego Sugar and great meals under $10 for San Diego Magazine.