Shards of pork leap into the air as a butcher knife strikes into its tender flesh. Rapid words in Spanish volley between the customer, cashier, and cook signaling latex covered hands to grab fistfuls of steaming carnitas, then folded into warm tortillas. For many, there may be uncertainty within this sight, but those who seek out these glorious tacos know exactly what they’re getting their hungry little hands on.
Since 2008, Las Morelianas has been Grand Central Market’s prized carnitas shop serving up mounds of tender meats braised within their own savory juices. Through savings and hard work, Fernando Villagomez, his mother, and brother had introduced their traditional Michoacan carnitas to the market. “It wasn’t easy - the three of us started cooking at 5am, serve at 9am, go home at 7pm and start all over again.” Every day large vats of meats are slow cooked for 4 hours or until the meat begins involuntarily undressing the bones. It’s then taken to the butcher block and chopped up into tiny shredded pieces. Try their most popular item, Carnitas Mixta. Every part of the pork (head, nose, skin, all of those tasty bits people don’t talk about) is chopped up and mixed together. In true Mexican style, free tacos are handed out to anyone who passes by — squeeze a little lime juice, sprinkle with onions and cilantro, then take a bite while standing. Las Morelianas serves nothing but authenticity.
“You have to cook with passion. Some people thought I was crazy, but I used to talk to the carnitas, ‘you have to taste really good, you have to be perfect.’” Crazy or not, Fernando gave the carnitas a little pep talk out of the goodness of his heart, “I have 17 employees counting on me to support their family. We have to sell carnitas to survive.” With the determination to sell tacos, the kitchen is chaotic, working like clockwork to feed the lunchtime rush. But between every guillotine chop to the pig’s head or claw-like vise grip to shredded meat are smiles, jokes, playful teasing, and the occasional flirt. The employees of Las Morelianas express genuine happiness that can be tasted in their food.
Fernando and his staff have embraced the recent change at Grand Central Market, “I don’t know what the market did but it’s good!” They sell out of carnitas everyday, never stuck with leftovers. “I learned that in Los Angeles, people want to try authentic things, they are not afraid to try us.” This past year Fernando had also opened up his second restaurant within the market, La Tostaderia, an authentic Mexican ceviche shop just beside Belcampo Meat Company. Here he introduces Mexican seafood dishes to health conscious patrons.
The next time you wander through the market’s maze, stop by Las Morelianas, grab a free taco, taste the glory, and thank Fernando. He’s a good man and he’s here to stay.
Janica de Guzman
Kort Havens & Logan Havens
Kort Havens & Logan Havens