Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Porkboy Manwich: The generous carnitas tacos at D'La Colmena grocery and taqueria aren't for the faint of heart.
A chance meeting with braised pork changes a woman's life
By Denise Vivar
I love surprises. Though tempted, I force myself not to look at the last page of a book so that every moment unfolds in the fullness of its own time. You can leave a wrapped package with me and know I won't open it until your bidding, however long the wait. And I didn't find out the gender of my child until he was delivered into this world--the ultimate of all surprises. In surrendering one's expectations and attachments, the reward is the simple pleasure of discovery.
With dining out it's difficult because it's not easy to leave our expectations at the door. We come, we order, we expect good food. Why else eat out? We look for quality and want to be wowed. What a burden we place on our senses and ourselves! Even when something tastes wonderful, it's only to be expected.
But one day recently I found myself in Watsonville doing business late morning, on the run, no breakfast. I popped into a small mercado for a quick snack, thinking of a quesadilla or breakfast burrito, nothing fancy, and found myself in the dreaded "you're-on-the-backside-of-breakfast-we're-not-quite-doing-lunch" limbo. Did I want the last chorizo-and-egg burrito?
I opted to wait for the carnitas and stood aside as the cook prepared my taco. It turns out I was in D'La Colmena--which translated means "the beehive." And a beehive it was: shoppers stocking up on sopa, queso fresco and chicharones, the folks behind the meat counter fielding orders for pollo and carne asada, a vendor winding his dolly piled high with bebitas through the narrow aisles of the store.
I noted the large side of meat the cook was pulling from the pan, no doubt to chop for the other soon-to-arrive carnitas orders. Distracted by the general buzz in the mercado, I gazed absently as he stuffed the entire pile of carnitas into a doubled taco. That ENTIRE pile. Into MY taco. He wrapped the bundle and I toted it out to my car. In no time flat I was pulling out of the parking lot while tearing hungrily into my package of porcine goodness.
What happened next was one of those sweet culinary moments, a love-at-first-bite suspension in time, that you look back on and tell your grandkids about (or maybe just your friends, but you get the idea). I took one seriously tasty bite and had to pull over. This was no "drive it like you stole it" moment. I pulled back more of the wrapping and studied the filling--nothing but chunks of braised pork, slightly shredded and crisp, and not too salty. Oh, yes, there was a little salsa--but it was the all about the meat for me. All this for just $1.99? Talk about your cheap thrill--I could hardly wait to go back for my next fix.
I was happy to discover that D'La Colmena is also in the business of catering events, and very recently had occasion to share the D'La Colmena experience with my friends. I refrained from discussing my prior love affair with the carnitas and simply unwrapped the trays for serving. Despite the fact that the food was not even served until a couple of hours after delivery, I'm pleased to say that nearly everyone commented on how exceptionally good the meal was. Most went back for seconds, and in the end the guests were eager to pack plates to go, even though all had had their fill earlier.
My one regret is that I've quite possibly planted an expectation in your mind about the carnitas--and I do hope you forgive me. The rest I leave to you to discover; I won't divulge the details of the other dishes we loved. Instead I have left a package for you to open. Try it on your own, tabula rasa.
Address: 129 W. Lake Ave., Watsonville
Hours: Daily 5:30am–9pm
Send a letter to the editor about this story.