Carnitas Snack Shack brings porkfest to Del Mar Highlands Town Center in Carmel Valley

Carnitas Snack Shack chef and co-owner Hanis Cavin, second from left, with his kitchen crew. Photo by Karen Billing
Carnitas Snack Shack chef and co-owner Hanis Cavin, second from left, with his kitchen crew. Photo by Karen Billing

By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley’s new fast-casual porkhouse Carnitas Snack Shack has arrived.

The original-recipe North Park location has become well known in San Diego for its pork-centric menu — bacon even factors into dessert options and the fries come with a side of bacon-infused ketchup.

The Snack Shack’s new location in Del Mar Highlands Town Center opened in the afternoon on Thursday, Aug. 21, and stayed busy until 11 p.m.

“The opening was really crazy — it challenged us,” said Chef Hanis Cavin, who co-owns the restaurants with Sara Stroud.

Proof of the success of their new location came from a comment on social media that pronounced that the new Snack Shack was just like the North Park location.

“That’s the best compliment you can give a chef, that the experience was the same because of all the hard work and training that went into making sure people have the same experience in every place,” Cavin said.

Co-owners Cavin and Stroud first met when they were at Kensington Grill — Cavin was the executive chef and Stroud was the general manager.

Stroud has been working in the restaurant industry since she was 15 years old and Cavin has been a chef for 20 years. They started thinking that if anyone could start a successful restaurant, it would be the two of them.

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The restaurant opened Aug. 21 in Del Mar Highlands Town Center in Carmel Valley. Photo by Karen Billing

“I’ve been working at white-tablecloth restaurants my whole career. Business in that end was slowing down,” said Cavin, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute.

“People couldn’t afford to go out to $100 dinners twice a week, but they could do a $20 dinner. We thought we could take all we knew, make quality food and put it into a spot where it looked like fine dining but you don’t have to pay big for it.”

The North Park location opened in 2011 and has since been known not only for the food, but for the hungry lines that spill down the sidewalk. As Cavin likes to say, “The line’s the sign.” He likes it so much, in fact, that he had it put on a T-shirt that employees wear.

The North Park location, unlike Carmel Valley, only has an outdoor patio — there is no indoor seating.

“We’re growing up,” said Cavin of the funky-industrial space with roll-up windows, a showstopper wall with a wooden pig designed by Hospitality Wood Products, and a pig mural on the opposite wall by artist Jesus “Chuey” Montes of a happy pig wearing a shirt that says “Vegan gone bad.”

Hatch Design Group designed the restaurant and every detail has been thought of — a walk-up window outside lets customers order ahead and skip the line, an herb garden in the front patio doubles as decoration and source of kitchen ingredients, and there are even little pigs carved into the wood of the tables.

While customers order at the counter and there are no waiters, Cavin’s food is served up on nice white plates with silverware — paper plates or plastic utensils just wouldn’t do for the labors of love that come out of his kitchen.

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