Is 3 trips to the same restaurant during a paltry 1 week holiday too much? Is that too narrow minded in focus, robbing you of precious opportunities to sample more of what the local dining scene has to offer?
If you answered yes, then clearly you’ve never been to the Carnitas Snack Shack, in beautiful San Diego.
Before our trip to Southern California, I put out a request to SD locals to tell me where to eat in their fine city. The folks on YELP came through big-time with more great suggestions that we could possibly sample. When a few of them checked out my blog to get an idea what I’d like, the Carnitas Snack Shack became the overwhelming recommendation.
I’ll tell you what….. that recommendation could not have been more spot on.
True to it’s “Shack” moniker, the building itself is pretty underwhelming, and would be easy to miss if not for the giant iron pig that adorns the roof. If you were just driving by, you could easily miss the epic swine-tastic delights being created inside.
We had heard that the lineups could be long at peak times, and our first visit at 7pm Sunday evening confirmed that. We about 45 minutes before we go to the order window, then waited another 40 minutes to get our food. Although there is no indoor seating, there is a beautiful outdoor seating space out back. As you might have guessed, the menu is heavily pork-centric, which is A.O.K. with me.
On our first visit, my wife Robyn went for the BLT. I have to admit that when she ordered the BLT I thought “Really? A BLT? Did you see all the other great sounding stuff on the menu?” Though, one stolen bite later I was converted.
A couple things make this much more than your standard BLT for me; the addition of crispy ham (I guess it’s actually a BLTH?), and a delicious a concoction called Shack Aioli. According to Robyn, it’s the best BLT, and one of the best sandwiches overall that she’s ever had. That’s a pretty good introduction to the Shack.
I of course couldn’t decide on what to order since I literally wanted to try everything. I settled on a Pork Belly App, with sweet and spicy glaze and a frizee salad. I rarely meet a pork belly I don’t like, and this one didn’t disappoint. I loved the crispy crust and the sweet glaze on the side was a perfect topper.
I also ordered the Triple Threat Pork Sandwich. Over 3 visits, this was the one thing that we found underwhelming. Since we took that first meal to go and ate it in the hotel room, I think it suffered from the extra 20 minutes in the take-out container. Piled high with bacon, pulled pork, and pork loin schnitzel, topped with pepperoncini/pickle relish, and shack aioli, it sounds like a pork lovers dream come true.
The thing that threw off the sandwich for me was the schnitzel. If it had been crispy it would have changed the texture of the sandwich (which was what I didn’t like), and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more. I wish we had thought about that at the time and ate it at the restaurant, because it probably was crispy when first served. Based on that amazing BLT alone, we knew another visit to the Snack Shack was going to be in the cards before heading home.
Our second visit to the Shack was late Wednesday afternoon after a day of relaxing on the beach in La Jolla. We had asked while waiting for our food on the Sunday when the best time to come would be to avoid line-ups, and mid afternoon sounded like the most likely bet. Sure enough, we arrived around 3pm to find we had the order window to ourselves. Score!
We ordered the special of the day; a Pork Burger with candied bacon, gorgonzola, mixed greens, and shack aioli and we paired it with an order of seasoned french fries.
The french fries were darn good in their own right and the homemade bacon ketchup (yeah…bacon ketchup) was stupendous, but in all honesty one whiff and subsequent bite of that Pork Burger and the fries were all but forgotten.
Simply put, this was the best burger either of us has ever had. Seriously, I couldn’t help licking the screen 3 times while writing this thanks to the picture. The pork was super juicy, the bacon was crunchy and sweet, the gorgonzola was mild and oh so creamy, and they grilled the brioche bun to give it perfectly crispy edges.
I have no idea how you could make a burger better than this.
Most people would have stopped while they’re ahead, but as we were sitting in the courtyard waiting for our food, we watched as a lot of other delicious looking food was being delivered to other lucky guests.
Hence a third visit on Friday.
This time I was determined to try the Steak Sandwich I had seen brush past me like a sultry vixen the last 2 visits. Just the sight of this sandwich causes me to drool uncontrollably and moan inappropriately. This baby has sliced ribeye, pickled serranos, tomatoes, chipotle aioli, and pepper jack on a jalapeno cheddar bread.
I loved every single thing about this sandwich. The spicy kick, the tender beef, the bread, and the juiciness of the sandwich is just unparalleled. Without a doubt, this is the single best hot sandwich I’ve ever had. I’m thinking about getting a medic alert bracelet and instead of medical info, I’m listing The Ribeye Sandwich at the Snack Shack as my critical medication. For real, look at the picture and tell me you could resist.
Robyn decided that since the Pork Burger was so fantastic, she’d try the Shack Burger from the regular menu.
Different burger, similar result.
This one had bacon jam, white cheddar, butter lettuce, and that delicious shack aioli. This is starting to be a running theme, but this would also make our list of best burgers. Possibly even #2, right after the pork burger.
Despite all that meat, Robyn still wanted chocolate. I wouldn’t have thought that a place specializing in pork products would have had any desserts (let alone anything good), but when Robyn saw Chocolate Pot de Creme on the menu, she had to try it. Rich and creamy, with a nice crunch from the bacon brittle on top, even I had to admit this was pretty darn good… and I’m not a dessert guy.
We typically suss out the best comfort food a city has to offer whenever we go on a holiday, but I have to say that for me the Carnitas Snack Shack has jumped straight to the top of my list. Almost 2 weeks later I’m still completely obsessed with 4 different items from their menu. You can’t get a better recommendation than that…except to say that it was simply balls-out awesome (having your balls out at the Shack is frowned upon).
P.S. Be sure to check out the Carnitas Snack Shack website for much more professional pictures than mine to make your mouth water.