Pork Roll

Fiesta Oaxaca and Los Amigos lured me back to the pork side

Some years ago I found myself utterly grossed-out while halfway through eating a beautiful steak I’d cooked perfectly. Not only was the act of eating sickening, but I kept reading about how factory farming was destroying the planet. Armed with prior years of vegetarianism that I’d given up on because I really wanted a Bobcat Bite burger that one time, I quit meat right then and there and entered a world of more bread and cheese per meal than I ever thought possible. Veganism was never an option.

Eventually, my doctor told me I had to add an occasional piece of fish to my repertoire because—and I say this with all respect to the vegans—I found myself exhausted regularly despite how I was supplementing my diet with vitamins and upping my non-meat proteins. Still, for the most part, I did not experience the siren call of meat.

But then something interesting happened recently while I was working on a story: I watched chef Fernando Ruiz make pork tacos, decided I at least needed to try a bite and, just like that, fell in love with pork again. I started slowly—pretty much just the carnitas tacos at Paloma during a dinner and then, for a long time, nothing. But during two separate meals over the last week, I found myself riding the pork train hard, and you know what? No regrets.

Last Friday, a friend suggested we check out Fiesta Oaxaca (135 W Palace Ave., (505) 982-9525), an eatery their partner swears by and one that had been on my “I’ll get to it at some point” list. Now that I’ve eaten there, I’m forced to ask myself why I slept on it for so long. First of all, the entire menu cuts a swath across the cuisine of Southern Mexico (with nods to Spanish, French and Afro-Caribbean styles to boot), and literally every item can be made vegan thanks to a little something called fake meat (mostly Seitan in this case). In other words, I could’ve been going to town this whole time, and I feel like it was a missed opportunity. My plan was to avoid meat, too, but then you see something on the menu like the al pastor burrito ($14), and you think that slow-cooked pork might just recapture those feels from Ruiz’s tacos.

And so they did. Fiesta Oaxaca’s take on the pork dish finds the meat sautéed with tomatoes, guajillo chili, chipotle, garlic, onion and pineapple. Wrapped in a gargantuan tortilla and served with red and green salsas frescas plus Oaxacan cheese, it was a triumph of flavors and textures. Even better? I felt stronger than the freaking Hulk after I crushed that bad boy—and I particularly loved the interplay of the sweet pineapple against the slight bitterness of the red salsa.

My buddy zeroed in on a dish dubbed lengua capiada, a delightful meal featuring battered beef tongue lightly fried with tomato, olives and capers. “Ohmygod,” they remarked at first bite. “They’re nailing this.” Still unable to bring myself into the red meat arena, I could only watch as they tore through it ravenously. Occasionally, they’d offer up comments about its tenderness and how well it was cooked. If you’re a beef tongue kinda diner, I gleaned, this could be a new favorite. My abridged take on Fiesta Oaxaca? I’ll be back so hard.

Two days later and I was on the Southside to hit up a restaurant I haven’t visited in ages but always consider whenever I drive by: Los Amigos (3904 Rodeo Road, (505) 438-0600). Santa Fe is one of those towns where a healthy number of old-timers inside can be an earmark of culinary quality, and the bevy of those, not to mention the laid-back ambiance, made the trip feel right. This time I dined with another companion who didn’t want to go the meat route and selected cheese enchiladas ($9.99). But seeing as how I’d already veered into pork country several times in recent weeks, I chose to order one of my all-time favorite New Mexican dishes and one of the few I missed during my myriad meatless months: the carne adovada burrito ($11.99).

While my companion said they would describe their X-mas enchiladas as “fine, better with the red chile,” I’m prepared to call Los Amigos’ carne adovada the best I’ve eaten in a million years. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll find plenty of places that serve this dish, but I’ve nary had a more tender and flavorful version. You’re probably thinking that it had been so long since I’d eaten meat, how would I have known? Well, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, one doesn’t forget an incredible adovada, and this one ranked among them. Los Amigos knows what it’s doing in the red chile department, and with an explosively flavorful combo of subtle spices making up a sauce that prioritized flavor over heat (something I love when restaurants do), I could barely contain myself. Los Amigos has a massive sopaipilla, too, which I used to create my own mini stuffed sopa.

“Do I just eat pork now?” I wondered to myself inside my head.

“If it comes like this, I just might,” I responded to myself.

One suggestion? Los Amigos offers small and large burrito sizes, and you should go with the large. Lord knows I will when I return, which will likely be any day now.

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