Porkyland ready to bring its Mexican fare to Carmel Valley shopping center

Fish tacos, carne asada burritos and chipotle chicken jumbo quesadillas will soon be served up to cure Mexican food cravings, as a new Porkyland location is set to open in Torrey Hills Center this week.

The restaurant has built a reputation in San Diego over the past 33 years for its authentic Mexican food, particularly its award-winning carnitas.

Owners Pepe and Deborah Stepensky, a pair of longtime locals, are responsible for bringing Porkyland to the neighborhood.

The Stepenskys have lived in Torrey Hills since 2000, raising their three children there. For a long time, they’ve been eyeing the space they now occupy, watching as it transitioned from an ice cream shop to a bagel shop, and often asking to be a part of the center.

“We’re very, very excited to be here, it’s so perfect,” Stepensky said. “We live just two blocks away and we’re very hands-on. We love to be in the restaurant and talk to our customers.”

Stepensky is the third owner of Porkyland, which got its start in 1982 as a tortilla factory. The first Porkyland eatery was in Barrio Logan.

Stepensky, who also owns San Diego Burger Company and Margarita’s Kitchen and Cantina in Seaport Village, became connected with the Porkyland family years ago when he offered to help after the restaurant was damaged in a fire. The Stepenskys remained connected with Porkyland’s second owner and bought the restaurant from him eight years ago when he decided to sell.

Porkyland’s Barrio Logan location has since closed, but its La Jolla location on Torrey Pines Road has been there for 33 years.

Neither Pepe or Deborah started in the restaurant industry before they moved from Mexico 29 years ago. Deborah was in TV production, and Pepe was in advertising. He still works with a theater company in San Diego and creates short films, such as the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Land of Milk and Honey.”

“Our creative sides are very good for the restaurant industry, because you need to be creative,” Stepensky said.

Deborah takes pride in crafting the menus, and they both had a lot of fun designing the look of the new Porkyland. Local artist Joel Sharp painted the walls to look like an old Mexican taco shop, with exposed brick and wood. They gave the floors a concrete finish, selected shabby-chic chairs and have chalkboard menus above the counter.

Everything on the menu is made fresh, using classic “time-honored” authentic methods.

It takes six hours to make the Porkyland’s famous carnitas in La Olla, an enormous special-made copper pot, four feet deep and 34 inches in diameter, that can be seen behind the counter.

“It has to be copper, because the carnitas needs to be evenly heated. In a regular pot, it heats differently,” Stepensky said.

Porkyland’s carnitas can be stuffed into tacos, burritos or jumbo quesadillas and the menu includes lots of different options such as shrimp, veggie, chicken mole and carne asada tacos, burritos, quesadillas and quesatacos.

“Everyone loves our carne asada,” Stepensky said. “We think our carne asada is going to be big here.”

The Porky Signature burrito stars carnitas, chile relleno, rice and sour cream, and the Deborah’s Special comes with carne asada and nopalito cactus.

Their tacos and mini tacos are made with the customer’s choice of corn tortilla, cactus tortilla or lettuce wrap. They always have a soup of the day, and there are healthy options such as mango salad, a protein plate and veggie tostada.

Porkyland offers family combo meals, and items like rice, beans and guacamole can be purchased by the pint. Carnitas and carne asada can be bought by the pound.

To be a little different in Torrey Hills and cater to the many children in the area, they have added desserts such as tres leches cakes, paletas (ice pops made with fresh fruit) and mini churros.

Porkyland is also a “tiendita,” a small Mexican market, selling chips, tortillas and salsas.

“The most important thing we tried to do here is breakfast,” Stepensky said. “There’s not enough breakfast options in this area.”

Porkyland will open at 7 a.m., and Stepensky hopes to conquer the breakfast market with options like bean, machaca, bacon, chorizo and egg burritos, and chilaquiles plates.

Stepensky said their chilaquiles are “ridiculously good.” The traditional dish features tortilla chips with rice, beans and a choice of chicken chipotle or eggs topped with red or green salsa or mole made with hot peppers and chocolate.

Visit goporkyland.com. The Torrey Hills Center is located at the intersection of Carmel Mountain Road and East Ocean Air Drive (www.torreyhillscenter.com; 4649 Carmel Mountain Road, 92130).

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