Slideshow: Which Chain Makes the Best Carnitas Taco?

Chipotle Hard Taco
Chipotle Hard Taco
The carnitas at Chipotle is an absolute delight for chain standards. Sure, it’s not the crusted, salted, perfectly braised pork you’ll find at Tacos Los Guichos, but there are real bites of crispy pork skin and tender flesh here. Rather than being chopped or pulled into oblivion, the carnitas chunks are thick and hearty, shining through the cheese, veggies and crisp corn tortilla. This is the sort of taco balance that most other places wish they could find.
Chipotle Soft Taco
Chipotle Soft Taco
For as good as the hard corn shell taco is, the soft flour version is even better. Lead with the fact that you’re only getting meat and salsa, and the pitying taco ‘tender behind the glass will pack your tortilla with extra bits of porky satisfaction. The tomatillo salsa verde is fantastic, with enough little seeds and chopped bits of onion to be warm and booming with flavor, without even thinking of overwhelming the delicate carnitas.
Baja Fresh Corn Taco
Baja Fresh Corn Taco
I’ve really come to appreciate the line that Baja Fresh draws in the sand between their corn and flour tortilla options. Choosing one is opening the window to an entirely different taco experience. The corn tortillas come double-stacked and steamed, packed with a large pile of nicely rendered pig. Diced onions can overwhelm certain bites, but for the most part work with the earthy pork to mix flavors textures for a satisfyingly simple carnitas rendition.
Del Taco Soft Taco
Del Taco Soft Taco
As the only true fast-food chain to offer limited-time carnitas (El Pollo Loco had a similarly porky promotion running a month or so ago, but had discontinued their carnitas as of this writing), Del Taco deserves some praise. The slow-stewed swine gave off a nice, medium porkiness without falling prey to so common traps. The carnitas wasn’t very bold, it wasn’t too wet or gristly, either. Instead, with some onions, cilantro, and whatever pale hot sauce they pile on, you’ve got a marginal carnitas taco that’s perfectly suitable for on-the-go eating.
Qdoba Hard Shell Taco
Qdoba Hard Shell Taco
Disaster might be too strong a word, but the carnitas at Qdoba largely fits the bill. The pale pork is packed with so much liquid you might swear you were trying to eat soup out of a tortilla. Even without the cheese as a binder or the veggies to give some bite, the hard shelled carnitas version was sloppy and unmanageable.
Qdoba Soft Taco
Qdoba Soft Taco
An attempt to simplify things with a soft flour tortilla didn’t fare any better. Given just the carnitas and some salsa verde, the mix was still exceedingly smushy, without any sense of spice or, really, pork. Imagine a pork shoulder that’s been boiled in milk... Better yet, don’t.
Wahoo’s ‘Salsa Verde’
Wahoo’s ‘Salsa Verde’
Ask for some salsa verde, and this is what you’ll get at Wahoo’s. If Ranch dressing copped to a torrid affair with a pile of cilantro and a tub of mayonnaise, this is the heathen salsa baby you’d get. Whatever this thick, goopy cilantro-bomb is, it’s not salsa. And those steamed corn tortillas don’t stand a chance.