Bird and I were cruising through New Mexico on our way from Arroyo Hondo to Albuquerque where our friends were getting married the following day. I was on a mission to reach our destination before noon, but Bird, the driver was hungry.
"Santa Fe, 15 miles," I said. Neither of us had been to Santa Fe before, so we called our friends, said we'd be late, and made our way into town.
How two some-time vegetarians wound up on the corner of the Santa Fe Plaza at a chuck wagon is a long story involving a trip to a hippie gem store and a debate on the merits of tattoos. I'll save that story for another day.
Roque's Carnitas Cart was easy enough to find even on a busy plaza; we just followed the delicious smelling cloud of smoke rising from a growing throng of people standing on the corner. Calling Roque's outdoor kitchen a cart is a bit of a stretch. The wheels were the the only indication that the umbrella-adorned, smoking, steel contraption was portable.
We ordered two beef carnitas and two tamales for $14.00 and made our way to an old bench in the center of the plaza carrying our lunch as if it were a prize. Bird and I carefully unwrapped our dripping carnitas with our arms stretched out over the sidewalk. Dirty pigeons eyed our treasures waiting for a morsel to drop to the ground.
The warm tortilla was generously filled with onions and peppers lightly seared and still crisp in the center. The beef was surprisingly tender with a subtle charcoal grill flavor.
The tamales were my favorite - tender white cornmeal, spicier than expected with just enough cheese to hold it all together.
We headed back to Roque's cart still licking the delicious grease from our lips. With little concern for the crowd of hungry lunch goers patiently waiting in line for one of his carnitas, Roque agreed to pose for a photo. Obviously no stranger to the camera, he grabbed a hot carnitas and raced to the front of his cart. He was proud and full of himself in a charming way; it was the kind of ego trip you can accept from someone who has earned the right to be smug.
"Tell your friends!" he said as we waved good bye. And we did.
Roque Garcia holding one of his creations