Essential T: Artisanal Guanajuato-Style Carnitas at Carnitas El Momo

Artisans at work.

The very best Mexican foods start with the letter T—tacos, tortas, tlayudas. Here we showcase the tastiest “T” bites from the streets of L.A.

Ah, the dish in exile. Craved by many, sometimes it’s simply a lack of traditional ingredients that get in the way of its execution. Often though, it’s a dearth of highly skilled artisans and cooks that mean the difference between authenticity and homage. These core culinary masters uphold institutions in their respective countries, and (intentionally or not) push the culinary envelope forward. They are the ones inspiring the finest dining rooms of provincial chefs.

In Los Angeles we have some nice carnitas (slow braised head-to-tail pork cooked in its own fat) from Michoacan at places like the Mercado Olympic. They exist too at the little stand on Slauson known as the State of Mexico. But there weren’t any artisans to speak of—until now.

Romulo “Momo” Acosta is a second generation carnitas master from Salamanca, Guanajuato, where he learned the carnitas trade from his father, Felix Acosta, a butcher and carnitas vendor in Salamanca’s Mercado Tomasa Esteves.

Carnitas El Momo has been a private affair for the last 33 years, until recently, when the family opened a food truck at Melrose and Vermont. Near Los Angeles City College, it’s run by Adriana Acosta, Romulo’s daughter. Her brother, Juan “Billy” Acosta has a stand at 61st and Avalon, and on the weekends the Acosta siblings sell their father’s carnitas. They’re all cooked the traditional way, in large copper pots.

I hadn’t seen carnitas like this since my last trip to Quiroga, Michoacan, where I had unforgettable tacos made with sweet and sticky, caramel-colored pork parts from the famous Don Carmelo, located in the town square. Acosta was a friend of the owners of Don Carmelo, and, well… acquired some of their secrets.

Acosta’s carnitas are a syrupy exhibition of viscous pork cuts that arrive in a beige heap, wrapped in foil. The luscious, savory coating makes your napkin tear and cling to your fingertips. Get an order to-go or have a taco right then and there of whatever partage suits your fancy.

Acosta has been doing this for 53 years; he not only makes the best carnitas in Los Angeles, but joins a small elite group of our finest Mexican street food vendors. Los Angeles, meet carnitas! El Momo (truck), Melrose Ave and Vermont Ave., Hollywood, 323-488-0642, Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. El Momo (stand), E. 61 St./S. Avalon Bl., South Park, 323-488-0642, Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Carnitas El Momo on Facebook.