Carnitas with a smile: Torrey Hills’ Porkyland

Pepe and Deborah Stepensky have been in the restaurant business for 30 years, currently running four eateries in San Diego — but they’ve never enjoyed the experience more than with the Porkyland in their own backyard of Torrey Hills.

“We really enjoy being here, this is like the neighborhood restaurant we always wanted,” Pepe Stepensky said. “Customers here are neighbors and friends, people I see at the Pacific Sports Resort, in the dog park or working at the grocery store. The community has been really nice to us and it’s really been a very different project. We’re very happy.”

The Stepenskys have lived in Torrey Hills since 2000, raising their three children Jessica, Alejandra and Fernando. Their children attended Sage Canyon and Ocean Air Elementary Schools, Carmel Valley Middle School and all three graduated from Torrey Pines High School. Fernando, the last to graduate in 2015, now attends University of Southern California.

“We’re locals and I think we’ve been successful here because people like to support local businesses,” Stepensky said.

They had long kept an eye on a location at Torrey Hills Center just blocks from their home and watched as it changed from an ice cream shop to a bagel shop. “We really wanted to be here,” said Stepensky.

They finally got into the center a year ago and the restaurant celebrated its anniversary on July 28 with Claudia Sandoval, the local winner of “MasterChef,” signing copies of her cookbook. In just one year, the Torrey Hills Porkyland has nearly doubled in size with the addition of an enclosed patio, filled with tables and colorful mismatched chairs. The patio opens to the center’s back patio which can be used for parties of gatherings.

The Stepenskys also own San Diego Burger Company and Margarita’s Kitchen and Cantina in Seaport Village, as well as the La Jolla location of Porkyland, which has been there for 33 years. Stepensky is the third owner of Porkyland, which got its start in 1982 as a tortilla factory.

Neither Pepe or Deborah worked in the restaurant industry before they moved to San Diego from Mexico 30 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 — the documentary he produced, “Una Vez Mas,” just won three Pacific Southwest Emmy Awards. The film tells the inspiring story of local Telemundo sports anchor Humberto Gurmilan, paralyzed in a surfing accident as a teenager and his experience returning to the ocean nearly 20 years later.

With the restaurant, Pepe said he runs the daily operations but credits Deborah as being “the brains.” A great cook, Deborah is also very involved in the kitchen and crafting the menu, constantly making new things.

Porkyland is famous for its carne asada and carnitas, which comes in burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tortas, tacos and quesatacos.

The menu features a large variety of Porkyland burritos, stuffed with beans and cheese, chicken, fish, shrimp or veggies. The new California Chicken Sriracha burrito is a spicy mix of grilled chicken, fries, chipotle sauce, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and Sriracha sauce. Deborah’s Special, on the other spectrum, is delicious in its simplicity with just carne aside and nopalitos (cactus pads).

“We changed the menu big time,” Stepensky said. “People are more health-conscious in this area so we added more salads as well as burrito bowls, which we never had before.”

The Protein Salad pairs romaine lettuce with corn, jicama, sunflower seeds and grilled chicken. Another healthy choice on the menu is the protein plate with black beans, guacamole and choice of meats.

Breakfast is also served all day with options such as chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and egg dishes.

Porkyland is also a “tiendita,” a small Mexican market, selling chips, salsas and tortillas — Stepensky says the cactus tortillas they sell are hard to find anywhere else in San Diego and of their hot carrots, he promises: “No one makes them like we do.”

As locals running a neighborhood restaurant, the Stepenskys hope to continue to enjoy the community’s support while serving up tasty, authentic Mexican cuisine.

Porkyland is located at 4645 Carmel Mountain Road and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Delivery is available through the Porkyland app by Doordash and Grubhub. To order visit goporkyland.com.

Copyright © 2018, Del Mar Times
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