I’ve had La Carnita on my list for a while but the dinner only hours and location has made it a bit difficult so I was happy to hear that a location opened at the more convenient intersection of King and John and that it was actually open for lunch. I made my way over shortly after not realizing it had just opened the Saturday before.
The layout is quite impressive. The two-floor trendy and nicely decorated interior offers a bar area on both levels and abundant seating. Unlike other snack bars, there is a good amount of breathing room so those with varied degrees of claustrophobia or agoraphobia can rest a little easier. I was quickly seated at the bar and handed a menu. Normally there is a good draft selection but since the place had just opened the taps were not working properly so I ordered the “Who shot ya?” cocktail instead. At this point I had no idea that this was the La Carnita signature cocktail which was developed by a bartender at the original location and has survived the test of time. A twist on a bourbon sour, it was a simple offering with great contrasting flavours including a stinging ginger and a sweet/sour pomegranate syrup.
I should back up a little and let you know that this story was told to me by what I assumed was either the manager or owner of La Carnita. What I found fascinating was the fact he had a hipster look despite the fact he had to be older than 30 and lacked complete self-absorption. Although I have equated hipsters to zombies in the past, this got me thinking that maybe they are more like smurfs, especially if we consider the fact that the majority would be either Vanity, Greedy or the tattooed Hefty. If so, I had just found Papa. He directed the staff (many of which I swear I’ve seen on the side of an Abercrombie bag) with kind authority much the same way Papa Smurf would with his clueless blue minions whenever their rather sterile environment was threatened with things like cats, birds or other natural predators.
The menu is taqueria style with a few apps thrown in. The also feature a special of the day which was a chorizo/kale empanada. I was all over it and I added a carnita and crispy cotija taco to the mix as well. From a visual, taste and texture perspective they were all brilliant. Punches of heat, sweet, crunchy and chewy were present in every bite and I was tempted to scoop up every morsel that fell into the tin tray. For example, the crispy cheese with the cauliflower and pinto beans garnished with a bit of pickled carrot was tastebud blowing and the pork confit in the carnita was melt in your mouth. Not quite satisfied, I had to try the special taco of the day;chicken fried steak. The thought of stuffing this ridiculous southern delicacy into a taco shell was very appealing to me and it paid off. The outside was crispy, and the inside was tender and still a bit pink. Once again, the accompaniments were a perfect balance of all things good…kind of like a good shot of Smurfberry juice while building a catapault. Other than forgetting the empananda the first time around, the rest of the food was served within what seemed seconds after I ordered.
Despite the one service hiccup and the volatile beer taps, La Carnita was a slam dunk. The days of the stagnancy of King street eateries may be coming to an end. No longer are the only choices those which require an invitation from a disgruntled maitre d’ standing on the sidewalk waving a 15 year old pre-theatre menu in your face. Instead, La Carnita offers a welcoming environment with great booze, a cool modern vibe and terrific food served fast and fresh. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about hanging with seniors ordering off the modified menu before “Kinky Boots” and you’ll be good as gold if Gargamel ever shows up.