Throw a stone anywhere in LA, and your bound to hit somewhere that serves carnitas. Even Taco Bell, currently involved in a lawsuit contesting that its beef is actually beef, tried their hand at a rendition of the carnitas taco. Despite the many bastardized and sanitized version that are available, there remain places in this city that serve carnitas that truly pay homage to what you’ll find in Central Mexico. One such establishment is the family-run Zamora Brothers Carniceria, located just north of Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles; not to be confused with a unrelated Zamora Bros. further west on Cesar Chavez Avenue, nor with another in Pico-Union that closed briefly last year due to a fire. This particular Zamora Brothers serves food “estilo Iripuato”, or originating from the Mexican city of Irapuato in Guadalajara. The building’s exterior is decorated in regal red and blue colors crowned by a slightly disturbing mural of a teary-eyed pig ready to be cooked.
Enter inside and you will find that Zamora’s is much more of a meat market than restaurant. If you peer in the back you might be able to catch a glimpse of the cazo, a large copper kettle, where the pork sizzles in it’s own rendered fat. Carnitas are simmered slowly for several hours before the heat is turned up and the meat develops a crisp outer crust as it fries. The use of pork drippings means that these carnitas are rich with the savory essence of heavenly uncured bacon. When the meat is finished Mrs. Zamora’s places it on the deli counter in huge mounds, glistening and radiant. Almost every part of the pig is on display here: buche (intenstine), oreja (ear), trompa (snout), cuertido (skin) and of course large hunks of maciza (pork shoulder) . At lunchtime the line goes out the door, as old and young alike quickly snatch up the sizzling carnitas before they have even begun to cool. In a scene that would make Jaws blush, a mad rush is made for the largest hunks of pork shoulder. Long metal tongs are used to pile carnitas in foil wrappers that are taken to-go. The pork shoulder is tender at its center, its fatty juices sealed in by a chewy outer shell that peels away into meaty filaments. The meat is exceptional when eaten unadorned. It is not heavily seasoned but rather reliant on the natural flavor of the pork, a staggering scent that has enticed mankind since the caveman days. The ear and snout cuts were highlights as well, the chewy morsels making for an superb impromptu sandwich when paired with Zamora’s house-made bollilo rolls and fiery salsa roja. Though it’s a shame they don’t prepare tacos, many people (myself included) seem content walking out with a pound of carnitas to be enjoyed at their own discretion. The best option may be to head over to the adjacent park and have yourself a picnic starring some of the best fried pork this city has to offer.
Zamora Brothers Carniceria
4771 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90022