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