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Roque's Carnitas

, Santa Fe, NM -
Posted By Michael Stern on 9/19/2010 11:23:00 AM
Roque's Carnitas is a chuck wagon that parks on the corner of San Francisco Street and the Old Santa Fe Trail on the Plaza. Roque Garcia and his partner Mona Cavalli usually pull up to this spot just before lunch time every day but Tuesday between Easter and Halloween, and sometimes continue on to Thanksgiving. Dining is stand-up informal, although in recent years a few little yellow stools have been added for people to sit and eat al fresco. The menu is minimal: tamales, a quesadilla, which is something like Mexican grilled cheese, and carnitas, which is a sandwich folded inside a large, sturdy flour tortilla that has been heated on a grate over a charcoal fire. Inside the tortilla is char-cooked top-round beef with chilies and onions and plenty of salsa.

Marinated in soy sauce and garlic, the beef is tossed with sliced yellow onions and sliced hot green chiles over a fire at the side of Roque's cart until it is lightly charred and the onions and chilies start to soften. About a half-pound of this cooked mix is piled into the tortilla and topped with salsa made from tomatoes, onions, and chopped jalapeƱo peppers. The hefty sandwich is tightly wrapped in foil so it can be carried without serious spillage.

As soon as you peel back the foil and try to gather up the tortilla for eating, chunks of salsa tumble out; meat juice leaks; onions slither and plump circles of earth-green chile pepper pop free. "We are New Mexican, not Mexican," Mona once explained to us. "That is why we use beef rather than pork, and flour tortillas rather than corn." The beef, which spends enough time over the hot fire to absorb good smoke flavor, glistens with moisture. It is tenderly toothsome with a lush meat-and-marinade smack that could have no better accent than the taste of fresh, fleshy New Mexican peppers. The whole affair, cushioned by its big circle of warm, wheaty tortlla, is a taste experience that is fundamentally and deliciously southwestern.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Roque's carnitas: one of the great street-eat treats anywhere, a great bouquet of beef and pepper and spice.
"Roque's carnitas: one of the great street-eat treats anywhere, a great bouquet of beef and pepper and spice."
Michael Stern





Roque has been serving his carnitas on the Plaza for decades. He recently moved one block from the corner of Washington and Palace, but if you are lost, just follow the perfume of his grill.
"Roque has been serving his carnitas on the Plaza for decades. He recently moved one block from the corner of Washington and Palace, but if you are lost, just follow the perfume of his grill."
Michael Stern


Roque ready to hand over one of his carnitas.
"Roque ready to hand over one of his carnitas."
Cliff Strutz


The menu is small, but everyone comes here for the carnitas.
"The menu is small, but everyone comes here for the carnitas."
Cliff Strutz


A carnitas is a beautiful thing, albeit a double-handful of a mess.
"A carnitas is a beautiful thing, albeit a double-handful of a mess."
Michael Stern


Mona Cavalli tends the beef, peppers, and onions at Roque's mobile grill.
"Mona Cavalli tends the beef, peppers, and onions at Roque's mobile grill."
Michael Stern


It's pretty hard to eat carnitas standing up unless you are sure to bend forward so juices don't run down your shirt front. Roque now provides a few of these yellow stools to make sit-down dining a possibility.
"It's pretty hard to eat carnitas standing up unless you are sure to bend forward so juices don't run down your shirt front. Roque now provides a few of these yellow stools to make sit-down dining a possibility."
Michael Stern



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