Crazy for Carnitas at Casa Jimenez in Fruitvale


NOTE: Sadly, Casa Jimenez is now closed!

As I was writing this post and reflecting on why in a restaurant known for its carnitas would so many people be eating seafood I realized that it’s lent. Which is apparently the six week holiday of solemn religious observance of ordering oysters at Casa Jimenez. I saw two people picking fish clean from their seafood caldo, the whole fried fish had a tall avocado-topped salad next to it, and I don’t think they were from Hog Island, but people seemed to be pushing their basket of chips aside to slurp down plates of oysters. I might take up lent too.

Casa Jimenez is on the corner of High and International, facing a large parking lot next to Los Mexicanos Market which is owned by the same family. Music blasts into the parking lot, the sounds of banda and neon budweiser lights beckon you in from the moment you park. The restaurant is split into two narrow seating areas, one with windows facing outwards towards the parking lot, the other a kaleidoscope of yellow and green walls and fruit-painted arches layering behind each other. The decorative staples of every family Mexican restaurant adorn the walls: jerseys and local team flags, TVs with soccer games and murals of la virgin and aztec warriors, and a commercial with Al from home improvement selling a pocket hose in the background. The service is warm, and our waitress— like every Mexican auntie I’ve ever had— didn’t miss a beat teasing me for being on a diet after seeing my unfinished plate.

But obviously it’s not because I’m on diet that I couldn’t finish this four pound plate of carnitas. Seriously, I could feed all four of my parents and siblings with that plate. And it would be these carnitas only that could transcend the awkwardness of us all in the room eating a plate of meat together, they are that good. Because these carnitas are Michoacan style, caramelized to the point of candy-like crispy fibers that tear apart to reveal tender, soft bites. They made me think of a good añejo tequila and of caramel.

They’ve got beers on draft here and a few aguas. This is a big plate place, with red rice and refried beans with a splotch of melted cheese taking up half the dishes. For $11 that carnitas plate was a steal. The corn tortillas are homemade, larger than your average corn tortilla and thick with bubbles. The menu is frighteningly long with some pupusas mixed in too. It’s bewildering how much stuff could potentially come out of those lemon-yellow saloon swinging kitchen doors, but I look forward to trying more.
4345 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94601