To find some of Brooklyn’s best carnitas, follow the subway tracks southwest from Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue. Turn down Bleecker Street, at the Popeyes, and cup your hands to your ears: You’re listening for the music. In a small driveway with two tables and a portable speaker, Isaac Reyes and his family tend to a steaming cauldron of carnitas with a two-foot metal paddle.
These aren’t your standard, cousin-to-pulled-pork carnitas found at Mexican restaurants across the city. La Perra Hambre makes carnitas from the whole hog: skin, snouts, hearts, ears, tongues, and rib cages. It uses more parts of the pig than any taqueria I know.
The exact cuts of meat change from week to week, but the method for preparing them is the same. Reyes, a native of Mexico City, simmers the pork for hours in a stainless steel tub filled with gallons of lard. As the meats tenderize in their own fats, he navigates the pot like a Venetian rower, moving meats here, then there, with a paddle. Now and again, he adjusts its flavor with lime juice, thyme, and whole oranges.
In Mexico, carnitas can mean different things to different people. In Spanish, the word translates as “little meats.” To someone from Guadalajara, it also means tomatoes: The carnitas from that city are bright red. In Michoacán, where the dish is said to have originated, true carnitas are made in a copper pot.
Reyes learned to make carnitas in Mexico City, from his mother Margarita. She’s been slow-cooking pork in Tepito, a neighborhood known for its open-air markets, for more than two decades. Five years ago, Reyes was working alongside her; he moved to New York during the pandemic to seek a better life for his family.
He started La Perra Hambre about three months ago with his wife Marlet Marin, his father-in-law Bernardo Marin, his sister-in-law Aide Marin, and his niece Olivia Marin, who are natives of Veracruz. The family members take turns packaging takeout orders, warming tortillas, and looking after Reyes’s daughter, Regina.
The hours have been different each time I visited; same with the menu. Once, the taqueria opened on time, at 11 a.m. A week later, the first tacos came out around 4 p.m. Other meats have appeared here and there, including chicken (a little dry), carne asada (worth trying), and greasy slabs of chicharron that stopped neighborhood dogs in their tracks.
The first time I visited La Perra Hambre, it was pouring rain. If I didn’t like cartilage, I would have gone home hungry. The carnitas that day were made with rib, head, skin, and nose. Reyes hacked them apart with a butcher’s cleaver, but he probably could have used an index finger: They were all cartilage, tendon, and fat.
A week later, the carnitas had changed. That time they were made with tongue, heart, and shoulder, too. The texture was similar to the street meats found up and down nearby Myrtle Avenue, only each bite was packed with pork fat. If it weren’t for salsa and lime, I would have had trouble eating more than one.
There are also quesadillas and huaraches filled with black beans. On every visit, my favorite way to eat the carnitas has been in a taco. Storebought tortillas are dipped into the glistening pork fat and then heated on the griddle. They come two to a taco for $4 each.
The marvel of carnitas prepared in this way is that several kinds of tacos can be made from the same pot of meat. Fatty, lean, or a little bit of both, the choice is yours — assuming your Spanish is good enough.
Find La Perra Hambre at 270 Bleecker Street, between Myrtle and Irving avenues, on Saturdays and Sundays until 10 p.m. Cash only.