Walking into Mi Cholulita, a Mexican restaurant located on Warsaw’s north side in the Walmart plaza, was like most every other Mexican restaurant I’ve eaten in, with an ambiance and atmosphere that attempted to transport you to somewhere south of the border.
We were seated quickly while the cheerful wait staff rushed around, darting between the family dining side and bar side, serving a handful of groups seated at tables during the dinner hour. My wife and I dove into a basket of unremarkable chips and dipped them in unremarkable salsa.
Our margaritas arrived and we each took a swig; they tasted like margarita premix and some tequila. I kept swigging (and then swigged my wife’s) because despite the disappointment, the margaritas and chips and salsa weren’t why I was there. I was on the prowl for carnitas.
I scanned the menu for them while our seemingly omnipresent waiter kept a watchful eye on our table, gauging our readiness to order. I scanned again. Still no carnitas. The server moved closer as my anxiety increased.
“I can’t find carnitas!” I exclaimed as I frantically perused the menu.
My wife casually pointed them out to me, something she has done multiple times in the past when I open the fridge door and swear something isn’t in there, only to have her prove me wrong yet again. Spotting the word “carnitas,” I sighed as my exasperation transitioned into a tempered excitement at the anticipation of enjoying my favorite Mexican dish.
When it comes to ordering food at restaurants, I am an annoyingly consistent creature of habit. Take me to a beach bar and I’m ordering a cheeseburger almost every single time, just like Jimmy Buffett sang about. Walk me through the front doors of a Mexican restaurant and if carnitas are on the menu, you’ll soon find them on my plate. I often call them “the best Mexican dish known to mankind”, hyperbole intended.
When my order of carnitas quickly arrived, I noticed immediately that the outsides were seared to a darker shade of brown than the tannish hue I was accustomed to. However, this slight crispness aided in the containment of the juices of the pork, and with just enough fat to keep the moisture and tenderness levels where they should be, the carnitas were Mi Choulita’s valiant attempt at making this dinner a memorable one.
As I filled my tortilla with way too much pork and it strained to keep everything in place, my first bite into the barely-held-together ensemble in my hands confirmed what I had hoped for — carnitas were still the best Mexican dish known to mankind, and Mi Cholulita’s juicy good-as-they-look take might be the best ones I’ve had to date. As with every other order of carnitas, there was way too much food to enjoy at one sitting and I was delighted to scrape my leftovers into a to-go container, knowing that I had at least two more meals at home to enjoy this tasty dish.
Mi Cholulita deserves to be experienced first-hand to have your own opinions of it formed, and I certainly would encourage that, especially if you’re as fanatical about carnitas as I am. While the restaurant excelled at carnitas and customer service during our visit, it fell a little short in others. As much as I enjoyed my main course, my wife’s subdued reaction to her order of chicken chimichangas and the unremarkable chips, salsa and margaritas were a reminder that, from this diner’s point of view, there were areas that could be improved upon; the good news is that these are easy fixes.
This article first appeared in my Bites and Bitters column for flavor574.com in April, 2016.