If I could pick just one place to eat carnitas tacos from for the rest of my life, it may be Los 5 Puntos in East Los Angeles. Their venerable Taco de Carnitas does not belong in 2020, it belongs in a museum. A reasonable argument can be made that it’s already there, given that Los 5 Puntos has been cranking out carnitas tacos for over 50 years.
Their carnitas are straightforward, derived from pork shoulder that is more sturdy than fatty, and without the textural contrast of crispy ends made popular by the various “designer carnitas” destinations that are popping up everywhere. The carnitas served here have an old-school, nostalgic feel to them. Try discerning anything other than pork and salt in Los 5 Puntos‘ carnitas and you won’t find it. Yet behind each succulent fiber of cooked pork lurks magic that defies precise description — it is not an ingredient, but the result of a process. There’s no culinary trickery here; this is the inevitable outcome of a recipe made many thousands of times as it is passed between generations, each iteration more perfect than the last.
Speaking of perfection, a taco cannot be any better than its tortillas, and the corn tortillas here are hand-made by adept abuelas who brilliantly flatten their perfect mixtures of masa and water into hefty frisbees of corn that are soft like pillows despite being dense like boat anchors.
The final key ingredient is a small palmful of pickled nopales (cactus) that provide a zesty hit of tang and heat, mixing with the meat, grease, and toasted corn for a well-rounded taco that remains firmly in my Los Angeles “Top Ten.”
Taco Scores: Taco de Carnitas (99)
Jay Recommends: Taco de Carnitas con Nopales
Los 5 Puntos; 3300 E Cesar Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90063; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 8:00am-6:00pm and Saturday through Sunday from 7:00am-6:00pm; (323) 261-4084; los5puntos.com