While most of Los Angeles is sleeping soundly at 3:30 a.m., third-generation carnitas cook Gustavo Chavez is prepping 220 pounds of carnitas in the back of his Inglewood restaurant, Carnitas El Artista. In the wee hours of the morning, copper cauldrons bubble as Chavez labors for five hours, using a large wooden oar to turn carnitas, lengua, and buche every few minutes so the meat doesn’t overcook.
Carnitas El Artista started as a backyard operation in 2013, but after the city of Hawthorne shut it down in 2018, Chavez set his sights on a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Fueled by social media and community support, as well as inspiration from the taqueros behind Carnitas El Momo or La Moreliana, he opened the small order-at-the-counter restaurant on N. La Brea Avenue in July of 2021. His specialty there, of course, is that slow-cooked carnitas, prepared Michoacan-style and served in tacos, atop nachos, and on traditional plates piled with meat alongside rice and beans, salsa, and pico de gallo.
Operating seven days a week has been a learning process for Chavez, but social media and community support from Inglewood, Hawthorne, and even West Los Angeles have bolstered him. The restaurant is a certified Rams House partner, a small business initiative created by the Los Angeles Rams to promote small local businesses to their fans and patrons. That exposure has carved out a new line of revenue for catering and serving businesses within the community, including local firehouses, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and even local city council meetings.
Here, get to know this special storefront serving some of the South Bay’s best carnitas.
Carne en su jugo — flank meat and bacon cooked in a tomatillo salsa verde and served with pinto beans, blistered scallions, quesadillas, cilantro and chopped red onions — is a popular house specialty that’s only served on Fridays and Saturdays.
Owner Gustavo Chavez cooks carnitas in the early-morning hours, then uses the meat in dishes inspired by those he grew up with.
Highly Instagrammable carnitas nachos, featuring crisp-from-the-fryer chips piled high with tomatoes, onions, cheese sauce, shredded cheese, carnitas, sour cream, and cilantro.
Fried egg-topped carnitas chilaquiles, cooked in two house-made salsas and designed to share. All of the restaurant’s tortillas, even those used for the chips, are made for the restaurant by Tortilleria de Bajio in Boyle Heights.
A traditional carnitas plate, piled with meat alongside rice and beans, as well as salsa or pico de gallo. Chavez serves it taqueria-style with pickled carrots and jalapeño for extra punch.
Putting the finishing touches on a trio of tacos, which Chavez keeps intentionally simple. They’re best enjoyed with a squeeze of lime or one of the house-made salsas (orange habanero, tomatillo salsa verde, or salsa roja).
Carnitas El Artista is open at 510 N. La Brea Avenue in Inglewood Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.