I first heard about this place from FOY (Friend of Yoso) Candice, who mentioned that Hans Cavin was opening a pork-centric farm to table shop in the spot that used to house Vo's at the end of the strip of University I call the "dead zone"..... Now I'm not really a chef groupie, as a whole I really don't follow much of who's cooking where and think that folks are sometimes more interested in the personality than what they're consuming, though who's cooking what sometimes catches my attention. Chef Cavin used to head up the kitchen at Kensington Grill, where the Missus and I had some good meals in the past. Combined with a pork theme (the shop is named after Carvin's pet pig...Carnitas) and a very casual easy to handle menu, how could I not want to check the place out?
I do love what they've done with the al fresco eating space in back of the place; which I found warm (literally so with the heaters on) and inviting.
It looks like a nice neighborhood place for sucking down some saturated fat, especially once the weather heads toward spring and summer.
The menu changes from time to time, though I'm thinking that some of the core dishes will probably be the same. Prices are on the low end for farm-to-table joints, so meat-huggers will love this place. And there was even a vegetarian offering as well.
Of course I could not resist the Pork Belly ($7):
It was a nice slab of belly with a frisee-apple salad as a counter-point. The pork had a nice crust and though it was a tad more chewy than I prefer, it was still nicely done. The glaze, which I didn't find very spicy, has a fruity component which is teeth rattling sweet eaten solo, but actually complemented the pork nicely. The frisee and apple I found too tannic and puckery for my taste. I realize that one would need something to cut the sweet-richness but it was just too much, sending me on this rather unpleasant rollercoater ride......
Having had it a couple of times North of the border, I love poutine. Here ($7) it is seasoned fries topped with pulled pork, a Vermont Cheddar gravy, crowned with a really, really, delicious julienne of bacon.
For me, this was a case of the parts being much more tasty than the sum. The pulled pork itself was very tender with a mild smoke flavor that is completely overwhelmed by the cheese in the sauce...which had attained a glue like texture by the time it hit the table. The fries were nice, but the seasoning just added more interference to the dish and combined with the cheese in the gravy made this pretty salty as a whole. Having bacon just made this a bit too over the top for me.....
I will say that the dishes didn't make me feel like I needed a shower or anything, so that's a good thing. The portions aren't humongous, though that pork belly was more than enough for me.
The woman manning the front counter, whom I believe is Sara, Carvin's partner in the shack, was a joy. I would suggest checking them out, though you may want to go when they open as the place seems to fill up quickly.
Carnitas' Snack Shack
2632 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104
Hours: Wed - Mon 12pm - 12am