The Oakpark.com Dining blog is, of course, focused on food that can be found in the Oak Park-River Forest area. Every now and again, however, an outside-the-area restaurant warrants mention and is worth a short drive to get there.
Carnitas Uruapan is in Pilsen (1725 W 18th), and the folks there specialize in carnitas, which are little pieces of pig meat slow cooked in lard. Much like the French method of preparing duck confit, cooking pork in its own fat is a way to preserve meat and amplify its porkiness. Each lush pork piece is packed with flavor-carrying fat, and although this treat is not something you should eat every day, it is spectacularly moist and delicious.
The cooks at Carnitas Uruapan prepare the pork in huge kettles, and throughout the day they emerge from the kitchen with large trays of delicate, slow-cooked meat and golden sheets of crunchy chicharrones (fried pork skin). If you’ve only had the packaged Frito-Lay version of this Mexican tasty (“pork rinds”), you really owe it to yourself to try fresh fried pig skin. It’s very delicately textured and rich in flavor; you don’t need to eat a lot to be happy.
Though carnitas are the star menu attraction, there are some other meats that also make an appearance from time to time.
Last Saturday at Carnitas Uruapan, the server and I had this short exchange.
Server: Quieres carnitas con, con, hmmm...[makes vertical movement with hand over esophagus)
Me: Buche? (pronounced boo-chay)
Server: Si, buche.
Buche is, indeed, cooked and chopped esophagus. The only other restaurant where I’ve seen this rare cut served in Chicago is at the Maxwell Street Market. Buche adds a toothy chewiness to the taco and has no organ-y flavor. If you’ve ever enjoyed gizzards at local fried chicken places, buche is similar.
Topped with and outstanding house-made salsa verde, the carnitas (with or without esophagus) is a fantastic snack that’s well worth the drive. One taco is a very reasonable $2.