Some people go to Dolores Hidalgo to dig up the roots of the Mexican revolution. Some people go to Dolores Hidalgo for the talavera pottery. A few go for the ice cream. A lot go for the wineries. And almost everyone who goes there goes to Carnitas Vicente. carnitas vicente sign Stan and Peggy Jones had agreed to chauffeur Don Day and Don Day’s Wife the forty or so kilometres from San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo. Don Day’s Wife was trying to find the location of a ceramics maker who could create some new pieces to match a set we’d inherited when we bought a home in San Miguel. Don Day was trying to remember the location of Carnitas Vicente. I think there’s more than one Carnitas Vicente in Dolores. Though I don’t think they have the same owners. Stan and Peggy had been there before and, with a little teamwork, there it was. The big building we were looking for. Salon Bicentenario on Avenida Norte. carnitas vicente building Carnitas. The word translates into English as little meats. I had never seen the word until I came to central Mexico. Carnitas just didn’t exist in the days when Don Day used to do those sunburn, shooters and sand in the shoes holidays to the country’s east or west coasts. Carnitas don’t seem to have existed for that long in central Mexico either. I couldn’t find any reference to them in any Mexican cookbook published before the seventies. And the two biggest champions of Mexican cuisine, Diane Kennedy and Rick Bayless, allot less than a single page to carnitas in their early books. I’ve often seen the term estilo Michoacan in restaurants so I’m guessing it was the state of Michoacan to the west of Dolores Hidalgo where they originated. But I’ve never seen a town with more carnitas shops than Dolores Hidalgo. And I’ve never heard of a carnitas restaurant more famous than Carnitas Vicente. carnitas vicente stan eating Merriam-Webster defines carnal as “given to crude bodily pleasures and appetites” and carnitas does seem to bring out the animal in Don Day (and Stan Jones). You suddenly find yourself attacking the plate and eating much more meat than you normally would. Traditionally carnitas are ordered by weight (they’re 240 pesos a kilo or a little less than $20 at Carnitas Vicente) and a kilo is usually good for four people and a decent size doggie bag. carnitas vicente plate For some reason that Don Day has never been able to figure out (it’s almost as bewildering as the source of the phrase the whole enchilada), almost all places that cook and sell carnitas are takeout places. They may have a table or two but that’s usually all. Carnitas Vicente is different. It does a lot of takeout business but it also does a lot of sitdown business. Carnitas Vicente was started 34 years ago by a former butcher with movie star looks called Vicente Mendez and, though he wasn’t there when we had lunch with Stan and Peggy Jones, he usually is. It’s a place you’d call typically Mexican with furniture with beer logos, A Coca Cola cooler, tartan tablecloths, murals that tell the story of independence, and a television which seems to be perpetually tuned to a never ending soap opera. The restaurant sells a few other dishes, including barbacoa, but one look around at the tables and you’ll see that everyone seems to come for carnitas. carnitas vicente murals telenovella When Don Day thinks of carnitas, he thinks of two kinds of carnitas. There’s the real kind and the not so real kind. The not so real kind are the kind that Don Day might make at home, using a pork shoulder or butt and simmering it in water with spices. The real kind are what most carnitas restaurants, including Carnitas Vicente, make. They’re what make Don Day proclaim, “Praise The Lard”. carnitas vicente cauldron Carnitas Vicente simmers almost the entire pig in a steel cauldron of rendered fat, adds such unusual ingredients as oranges, Coca Cola and evaporated milk and are much more adventurous in their spice selection with cumin, cinnamon and cloves often added. Vicente Mendez takes a lot of pride in his selection of the animals he chooses. He only uses pigs from Mexico’s pork capital Irapuato and, in a week, the restaurant will go through more than fifty of them creating the porcine pleasures of carnitas. If you look like a typical tourist (as Don Day always does), your Carnitas Vicente server might bring you the mostly whiter, drier, leaner parts from the loin. If you simply ask though, he will bring you a choice of whatever part of the animal you want. Don Day likes the ribs, leg or shoulder with their extra fat and bones plus a little crispy chicharron, the skin of the pig. Thinking that Stan and Peggy Jones would have more pedestrian tastes (I should have known better), Don Day didn’t ask for any special parts of the pig. The ribs and shoulder could have had wings the way they flew off the plate. Don Day now knew the real meaning of keeping up with the Joneses. carnitas vicente stan and peggy Carnitas should be served with tortillas, limes, chopped onions, cilantro, a red sauce and a green sauce. Carnitas Vicente arrive at the table with all of those plus a cactus paddle salad and a bowl of too hot for Don Day to handle jalapenos. We all agreed that guacamole is a perfect partner for carnitas and ordered that as well. carnitas vicente jalopenos Now what makes Carnitas Vicente what foodies like Don Day call a destination restaurant? A place that’s worth driving almost an hour for. Well good carnitas should be moist and juicy. One checkmark. They should have a little crisp on the outside. Two checkmarks. They should be falling apart, melt in your mouth tender. Three checkmarks. And, other than salt, they should have very little flavor from the other ingredients in the pot so the pork is the prime tast
e. Checkmark number four. That’s four for four and why Carnitas Vicente is the pleasure palace of pork. Carnitas Vicente is located at Avenida Norte 65 in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico. They are open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.

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