At Carnitas Los Reyes, carnitas tacos come with shredded pork which is mixed with pork skin and pork belly and wrapped in a homemade corn tortilla.

There’s something about pigs.

Their baby pink skin and curly tails have won over our hearts. Some live on a farm, befriending a barn spider who spins words about them in her webs. Some put on glamorous outfits, do karate and obsess over green frogs. Some even pop out at the end of a cartoon to tell us, “That’s all folks!”

In a dirt lot on Broadway, there have been sightings of three new little pigs, wearing crowns as the self-proclaimed kings of carnitas. These new pigs come from Michoacán ... and they are delicious.

Since 2022, Carnitas Los Reyes has been serving up the juiciest carnitas tacos, authentic to the ones seen in Michoacán, Mexico, which is famous for their mouthwatering take on the shredded pork dish.

Karin Reyes was born in Tierra Caliente, Michoacán, making the move to Tucson when she was five years old.

When she grew older, Reyes and her partner, Eleno Sanchez, began having conversations about starting a food truck. Soon after, they bought a Little Debbie delivery truck, transforming the vehicle that once carried Oatmeal Crème Pies and Cosmic Brownies into a functioning food truck.

Karin Reyes and Eleno Sanchez opened Carnitas Los Reyes in 2022 after toying with the idea for years.

Reyes first learned how to cook from her aunt who showed her how to make birria. From there, Reyes added her own flair to the family recipe, making it similar to barbacoa.

“My birria’s a little bit thicker than any place else, just because I don't use water to cook it,” Reyes said. “I do add a lot of other spices and veggies to make it a little bit thicker. I also use the actual dried chiles and not any powder.”

At Carnitas Los Reyes, parked at 5050 E. Broadway from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, you can get Reyes’ birria in the form of a quesabirria taco. Gooey cheese and a handful of birria are wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla for a spicy-yet-cheesy experience.

Carnitas Los Reyes is also known for its cheesy quesabirria tacos.

Like other places in Mexico, birria is well loved in Michoacán, but nothing compares to their carnitas. It's probably the most famous dish to come from the Mexican state, with many people referring to it as the birthplace of carnitas.

Reyes takes pride in their carnitas, saying they are as close to authentic Michoacán tacos you can get here. We have Sanchez’s mother to thank for that.

Growing up in Michoacán, Sanchez’s mother had always been around pigs, Reyes said. They would raise and sell pigs, and she eventually learned how to make all the delicious food from them, including chorizo and carnitas.

Just like his mom, Sanchez also grew up around the animals, mastering his mom’s carnitas recipe, adding on his own twists.

It truly is a science. If you make one wrong move — if the temperature is too hot or if the pork skin is added too early — the dish can be ruined. Luckily, it seems like Sanchez has mastered the science of cooking carnitas.

Every day for 4½ hours, Sanchez is cooking up carnitas, making sure customers get a fresh helping when they stop by the truck. To make his authentic Michoacán carnitas, he can’t just cook in a regular pan or pot — he needs to use a cazo.

Unlike a normal pot, a cazo has a smaller, flat bottom and gets wider on top. With the cazo, Sanchez cooks the pork with manteca, a type of lard used in lots of traditional Mexican dishes. After it cooks for a while, he adds in the buche, which is pork belly.

Aside from the pork, Sanchez also adds other spices and ingredients that give it a flavorful taste. Some of the ingredients are the usual spices like garlic, but he also adds orange juice, Coca-Cola, sugar and a stick of cinnamon. While they may seem unconventional, it’s those elements that make them delicious and authentic to the ones you see in Mexico.

For the last two hours of the process, Sanchez adds in the pig skin, mixing it all together to create the tender pork — so tender in fact, it pulls apart easily.

Carnitas Los Reyes serves up authentic Michoacán carnitas, which is where many say the dish was born.

Their carnitas come in a homemade corn tortilla that is made inside the truck. From the first bite, you’re hooked.

The pork is soft and juicy, with a subtle sweetness from the sugar added. The slight fattiness and chewiness from the buche and pork skin elevate the tacos, making it more flavorful than simple shredded pork in a tortilla that you can get somewhere else.

While I could’ve just eaten the pork with a spoon, what really put the taco over the top was their fresh tomatillo salsa. It’s citrus and lime flavors mixed with the pork made my tastebuds dance.

One Yelper stated that as someone whose family grew up in Michoacán, she’s picky about this particular dish. But she raved about the carnitas, saying they are the best she’s had in the city.

Though they are known for their carnitas, Michoacán has other dishes that are near and dear to Reyes’ heart. One of her favorites is morisqueta: a dish made where white rice is topped with chile, refried beans, cheese and your choice of meat.

Another one of her favorites is uchepo. Similar to a green corn tamale, uchepo is a sweet corn dough that is garnished with sour cream and tomatillo salsa.

Michoacán is also known for their crumbly cotija cheese. While it may seem like an odd combination, a go-to Michoacán dessert is gazpacho: a fruit cup where mangoes, pineapples and jicama are chopped up and mixed with orange and lime juice, topped with a sprinkle of cotija cheese.

The next time you’re craving carnitas, look for the truck with the three little pigs on it, where one bite of a taco will remind you why Michoacán is the king of carnitas.

“We try to make everything very authentic,” Reyes said. “We make everything fresh. That's why our orders take a little bit longer, because we're making everything handmade.”

We're taking a trip around our border country through the lens of Tucson restaurants 🌮 El Tour de Mexico is a series that highlights local eateries who specialize in cuisine from different regions of Mexico.


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Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her via e-mail at jdonnelly@tucson.com