San Diego, California – Carnitas’ Snack Shack

Restaurant: Carnitas’ Snack Shack
Cuisine: American/West Coast/Eclectic/Burgers/Sandwiches/Desserts
Last visited: December 20, 2012
Location: San Diego, CA (North Park)
Address: 2632 University Ave
Phone: (619) 294-7675
Price Range: $10 or less, $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 5.5
Service: n/a (pay at cashier)
Ambiance: 3
Value: 3.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • American w/Mexican influence
  • Chef Hanis Cavin
  • Daily specials
  • Pork focused menu
  • Farm to table
  • Local/sustainable ingredients
  • Breads from local bakeries
  • Good quality “fast food”
  • Sells out of popular items
  • Local favourite
  • Long lines at peak hours
  • Affordable
  • Quick/casual
  • Family friendly
  • Outdoor seating only
  • Wed-Mon 12pm-12am

**Recommendations: Pork Sandwich, Shack BLT, Steak Sandwich, Candied Bacon Ice Cream Sandwich

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (3)@$#%. This was it. Touch down. Home run. Score. I love this place and in the limited time I had in Follow Me Foodie to San Diego I would have come here twice – which is rare for me. I honestly loved this place and I can’t stop thinking about it almost a month after. You order at the “take out window” and it is pretty much self-service from there. Quick, casual and fantastic eats!

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (4)The only seating is outdoors in a “renovated” parking lot around the corner behind the ordering window. Being in San Diego it never really gets cold and they have heat lamps in case in does. I could see this patio being packed in the summer.

While researching places to eat I came across Carnitas’ Snack Shack, but judging by the name I made all these assumptions that were very wrong. I thought it was going to be Americanized Mexican food for tourists. It sounded like a late night hole in the wall that was great for munchies. I didn’t even include it on my original dining itinerary, but luckily I had direction from locals and sure enough this was a hit. Apparently there are long lines during peak hours, but I came here for a late lunch and was able to avoid the wait and crowd.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (2)If you love pork then welcome to Carnitas’ Snack Shack. If you did not already get that from their name, they specialize in pork and a lot of it. Chef Hanis Cavin creates the seasonal menu with simple but very well made food. The staples are everything written in white chalk and they always have new daily specials (in coloured chalk).

The restaurant is actually named after chef’s pet pig “Carnita”. The man owns a pig and his menu revolves around pork. It might sound odd, but he truly does the pig justice on the menu. You can rest assured that he respects his animals sourcing from sustainable and ethical farms as well.

The menu features American favourites with West Coast and Mexican influences. The food is made with good quality ingredients which are sourced locally with all his suppliers listed. Everything was fresh, made upon order and executed with care. I was actually very surprised. The kitchen was incredibly tiny for the quality they bring and volume they do, but nothing feels mass produced and the things I tried where made with love.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (1)This is a place for the non-fussy yet sophisticated carnivores who know their food and love to eat, or more accurately indulge. The menu is simple and there are no fancy cooking techniques, but they just know good food. It was in the quality of ingredients and they have some well thought out original menu items. It is not exactly cheap for a “snack shack”, but the value is there in the sourcing of ingredients and proper execution.

Maybe it was because I had no expectations, but the food was just done right and done well! It was sophisticated yet casual and approachable and it was street food as opposed to typical “fast food”. It was slow food made fast and the standard was sit-down farm to table restaurant quality. I would choose to pig out here any time.

 On the table:

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (8)**Pork Sandwich 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Pork loin schnitzel/ pulled pork/ bacon/ pepperoncini-pickle relish/ shack aioli $9
  • Holy @#$%. I couldn’t put this down.
  • I want to cry just thinking about this sandwich and it’s not something I can easily replicate at home.
  • Seriously, I crave this. This was no ordinary “pork sandwich”. This was a masterpiece. It was a Cuban Sandwich 2.0. Bless their souls for making it.
  • The sandwich was huge. You can’t tell in the photo, but I had to eat it with both hands. It was stacked high.
  • The grilled bun was from a local bakery and it tasted like garlic bread and it was soft and squishy.
  • It was not quite a brioche bun which would have put it over the top, but it was still a good burger bun.
  • The housemade Shack aioli must have melted right into the bun and it had good garlicky flavour.
  • There was so much meat in this and it featured pork executed in three ways.
  • It was a crunchy panko crusted deep fried pork schnitzel loin which was still moist and tender, juicy caramelized pulled pork with charred bark, and then thick slices of crispy good quality bacon.
  • All the meat was moist and juicy, not greasy, and it ended up being a very sloppy and messy sandwich due to its size.
  • I have to emphasize how perfectly executed all the meat was.
  • Usually there is one that isn’t as good, but no, each layer of pork could hold its own by itself.
  • Everything was well executed and it was good quality locally sourced sustainable pork with natural flavour.
  • I could taste each layer of pork and it was a good ratio of each.
  • The mild-medium spicy pepperoncini-pickle relish gave enough heat and acidity to cut the rich layers of pork without overwhelming the meat.
  • There was excellent crunch and the savoury, tangy and spicy flavours were well balanced.
  • The only way it could get better is with a bit of caramelized onion, sweet apple jam, or fried egg… but that’s just me.
  • A missing sweet condiment would have hit all my taste buds at once, but honestly this sandwich did no wrong.
  • I prefer pork to chicken or beef most of the time because I find pork has more flavour and variety.
  • It wasn’t too salty at the time, but an hour later I was pretty thirsty and I wouldn’t want to know the sodium intake on this.
  • No question I would include it in my Top 20 Best Sandwiches in Vancouver if it was in Vancouver. I would put it in the Top 10.
  • Side of corn – 4/6 (Very good)
    • I loved the side of corn they served!
    • It was almost like a corn salsa meets a corn salad and the corn kernels were fresh, sweet and very crunchy with a pop.
    • It was mixed with some radish and it tasted like sweet summer in a cup.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (6)**Shack BLT – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Bacon/ crispy ham/ lettuce/ tomato/ shack aioli/ toasted brioche $8
  • I almost never order BLT sandwiches even though I like them. It just seems too easy to make at home, but this convinced me otherwise.
  • They put any other BLT I’ve had to shame. If BLT’s looked this “healthy” I would order them all the time.
  • By “healthy” I mean thick and full of ingredients and sandwiched between beautiful slices of bakery quality toasted brioche.
  • It was a very rich and hearty BLT.
  • The toasted brioche bread was as good as everything inside the sandwich. It was excellent and locally sourced.
  • The brioche bread was so loose and light, soft and fluffy with good stretch, and very intense with buttery flavour.
  • It was thin, but thick enough to hold all the sandwich fillings.
  • The bread had a sweetness and it contrasted the generous layers of savoury bacon and crispy ham.
  • There must have been at least 6 thick slices of good quality bacon and each one was so crispy and crunchy.
  • I could taste salty bacon in every bite and the crispy ham just made it extra bacon-y in flavour.
  • It was layered with Canadian ham which was a bonus.
  • It was no deli ham but actually slow roasted ham. It wasn’t shaved paper thin, so the sandwich had bite.
  • The ham wasn’t really crispy, but it had good flavour and was very moist.
  • I always prefer romaine to iceberg lettuce, but in this case I didn’t care. It was about the bacon.
  • This sandwich was dominant with bacon flavour and ideal for intense bacon lovers.
  • Again it wasn’t too salty at the time, but an hour later I was pretty thirsty.
  • Being in California I expected some avocado in this, but I guess it wasn’t a BLTA – love those!
  • I personally enjoyed the Pork Sandwich even more, but the BLT was just as excellent, but on another level.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (5)**Steak Sandwich – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Sliced ribeye/ jalapeno cheddar bread/ tomato/ pickled serranos/ chipotle aioli $9
  • It is one of those posts where I am almost recommending everything. I hate doing that, but I can’t help it here. It’s amazing!
  • Look at that steak sandwich! It was generous slices of ribeye which is way more flavourful than tenderloin.
  • It is even more flavourful than filet mignon because it has more fat content.
  • This was basically a glorified spicy Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.
  • The juicy layers of steak were shaved quite thinly rather than sliced, but they were good and still tender.
  • I prefer my steak medium rare and this was medium well to well, but it was not dry.
  • There was a layer of melted ooey gooey stringy sharp orange cheddar cheese and mozzarella (?) and it was just enough to make you not feel sick.
  • The spicy pickled serranos really helped cut the oily layers of beef and cheese and the chipotle aioli gave it excellent spice.
  • The chipotle aioli was almost like a garlicky and spicy Thousand Island like dressing and it had quite the kick.
  • It was a saucy and juicy sandwich loaded with meat and you had to eat it with two hands.
  • The jalapeño cheddar bread wasn’t as buttery and rich as the brioche, but it was still bakery quality bread and it had good spice.
  • I didn’t realize it was supposed to be jalapeño cheddar bread and it wasn’t that cheesy, but I was really paying attention to the inside of this sandwich more.
  • The bread was still good and crispy with little pieces of jalapeño throughout, but it wasn’t the highlight.
  • Sure there could have been caramelized onions and an even better quality of cheese, but for $9 I didn’t mind this at all.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (7)**Side of Seasoned Fries – 4/6 (Very good)

  • $2.50
  • “Side of seasoned fries” is no “side” here. It is good for 2.
  • They were crisp fries fried in fresh oil and seasoned with Baker Shake seasoning which is a local brand.
  • The house made Ketchup is rumoured to be made from bacon fat, unless that was referring to their bacon fat mayo?
  • I liked this housemade Ketchup, but I didn’t love it.
  • The Ketchup almost tasted like marinara sauce and it was sweet and reminiscent of creamy stewed tomato paste.
  • Knowing their style I thought it would be spicier and more like BBQ sauce, but it was quite the opposite.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (9)Candy Cane Crumble Mousse – 2/6 (Okay)

  • $3
  • It was a seasonal dessert during December.
  • This was the only thing I wasn’t keen on and didn’t really like.
  • The mousse tasted more like buttery peppermint and white chocolate icing than mousse.
  • The crumble was almost like graham cracker cookie crust, but it was soggy and not crumbly, crispy or crunchy.

FMF in San Diego - Carnitas Snack Shack Shop (17)**Candied Bacon Ice Cream Sandwich – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • $5
  • Oh gosh. This made up for the candy cane mousse and it was amazing!
  • I’ve had bacon ice cream sandwiches before, but this was the best one I’ve had to date.
  • I was getting tired of the “bacon in desserts” trend, but this made me fall in love with it all over again.
  • The cookie was a thin chewy chocolate cookie and it tasted like a fudgy brownie.
  • The ice cream was hard and loaded with pieces of crunchy and crispy maple and caramel candied bacon.
  • I really dislike cheap ice cream and this wasn’t premium ice cream, but it wasn’t cheap stuff either.
  • It was good ice cream that didn’t seem egg based and was on the icier side.
  • It was rich enough with the bacon so I didn’t need a custard based ice cream anyway.
  • It was salty and sweet and the bacon almost tasted like salted caramelized pecans.
  • It was the perfect ratio of ice cream and cookie and I could taste everything equally.
  • Every bite had a crunchy bacon bit candy and I could have eaten 3 of these.
  • I love ice cream sandwiches and it was a nostalgic dessert for the big kid in me.

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