100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 32, Carnitas at Molina's Cantina

There's an extra step in the prep of these carnitas that makes them irresistible.
There's an extra step in the prep of these carnitas that makes them irresistible.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

The Molina family opened its first restaurant in Houston all the way back in 1941, and today, Molina's Cantina is still making top-notch food that they're proud to call Tex-Mex. The three Molina's Cantinas in town are now helmed by the three grandsons of the original owner, Raul Molina, who moved to Houston in the 1920s to escape the Mexican revolution. He brought with him some of the same recipes that are still used at Molina's today.

I cannot say whether the carnitas on the "Special Combos" section of the menu are an original recipe. I doubt they are. But I can attest to the fact that they're some of the juiciest and most flavorful chunks of pork in town.

See that perfect crust on the outside? That's the flash frying.
See that perfect crust on the outside? That's the flash frying.

Unlike most carnitas, which are usually served shredded inside tacos or burritos, the carnitas plate at Molina's comes with a half dozen or so good-sized cuts of meat, as well as refried beans, Spanish rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, green salsa and fresh tortillas--everything you need to make soft carnitas tacos, just deconstructed.

What makes these carnitas better than most, though, is the way they're prepared. First, the meat is marinated in citrus and spices for several hours. Then it's sautéed in a peppery sauce long and low to keep it tender and juicy, before finally being flash-fried. It's the flash-frying that makes the chunks of meat so irresistible. The outside gets an almost crisp, spicy finish, while the inside stays moist and captures all the flavors.

Fried, the pork is still tender enough to easily shred with a fork, but the texture is more dynamic than your average carnitas. The emerald-green salsa served with the carnitas provides the perfect dose of citrus and heat to bring out the best flavors in the fatty pork.

Put all that plus some beans and guac in a steaming hot tortilla, and you've got one heck of a Tex-Mex taco. And the best part? The whole plate (tortillas and all) is only $10.95. That much tender meat at that price is one of the best deals in town.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.


The list so far: No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme

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Molina's Cantina

4720 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007


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