exterior of Cutija taco stand in Los Banos California.jpg

A cheerful paint job welcomes taco lovers to this roadside gem in Los Banos.

plate of tacos at Cutija taco stand in Los Banos, image

The carnita tacos at Cutija come topped with sauteed onions and wedges of lime.

Cutija: A Taco Shack in Los Banos, Calif.

Road Journals Blog—It pulls me off Highway 99 like an orange-striped, electric-blue magnet. As I make the 15-minute drive into Los Banos, one thought pulses in my head: Will the carnitas tacos be as good as I remember?

At last, I spy the faded Cutija sign on the corner of Pacheco Boulevard and Center Avenue. Sure, the taco shack has an extensive menu, but I march past it without a glance and put in my order through the screened window. Two carnitas tacos, with everything, a side of spicy pickled carrots, and one huge cup of lemonade.

A few minutes later, the screened window slides open with a thwack, and there they are: tacos with falling apart, tender hunks of braised pork, crisp and browned at the edges, sit mounded on corn tortillas. They are topped by chopped onion, cilantro, and fresh, avocado-laden salsa, plus a wedge of lime to squeeze over it all. As I take my first bite, juices and shreds of pork escape out the back end.

I sip my drink. The lemonade cuts through the porky richness like a crisp white wine of tacodom. The crunchy pickled carrots add a nice counterpoint, too.

Yes, the tacos are just as good as I remembered. Who cares if I have to dine with the hot whoosh of cars racing by me as I perch at a wobbly picnic table.

Cutija: 5 West Pacheco Blvd., Los Banos, Calif., (209) 826-8024.

Photography by Gayle Keck

This blog was first published in February 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.