SANTA FE, N.M. -- Roque Garcia doesn't own a well-known restaurant, he's not the proprietor of a four-star inn, and he hasn't written the definitive cookbook on Southwestern cuisine.
Truth is, he's got this little cart on Santa Fe's historic central plaza right around the corner from the Palace of the Governors, which from 1610 to 1909 was the official residence of the governor of New Mexico.
And his prices are -- well -- cheap, at $2 for a carnita and 50 cents for a Pepsi. The moment Garcia and his girlfriend, Mona Cavalie, unload the cart from Garcia's pickup truck and fire up the grill, locals and tourists alike begin to line up.
Carnita, literally translated, means little strip of meat. The idea came from his mother, Conferina Garcia de Salmeron. Garcia has 11 brothers and sisters, many of whom still have lunch every day with their mother.
"My mom used to cut round steak in little pieces," he said, "and fry it with potatoes, chile and onion. You see a round steak in a big family goes a long ways."
People from all over the world write him and ask for the recipe. But it was only recently that Garcia bothered to write it down.
Locals like it too, so much so that even if it's raining, they manage to shout their orders from nearby doorways. Sometimes a tour bus will drive by and the driver will stick up several fingers to indicate the number of carnitas needed.
Garcia, 50, an outgoing man who has run for the city council twice and lost, seems comfortable with everyone, whether homeless and begging for a handout or coming by in a limo. All his customers get the same friendly treatment.
Garcia loves his work.
"I should have done this years ago," he said.
He began his cooking career when he got out of the army and went to California. He found work as a dishwasher, later moved on to Lake Tahoe where he worked as a chef, then decided to move to Washington where he owned a little carry-out shop on South Capitol Street, called Don Pedro, in partnership with the late Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-N.M.). Later Garcia moved to Connecticut Avenue and opened a restaurant called El Matador.
But his home was in Santa Fe and it was to Santa Fe that he finally returned.
On nice days in the winter months, he is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the summer, he is open every day from 11 a.m. until he decides to close, depending on what's happening on the plaza.
And if you should decide to buy his carnitas, like as not, he will say: "I have two beautiful patio and dining rooms. You can sit on the steps of the Museum of Fine Arts (the little patio) or you can go sit on the plaza on the big patio under a tree." Either way, be prepared for a spicy treat.
ROQUE'S CARNITAS (4 servings)
Garcia grills his carnitas on an outdoor grill with a small screen underneath the grill. A preheated skillet works almost as well.
2 tablespoons oregano
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup salad oil
1/4 cup beer or white wine (Garcia usually uses beer)
1 1/2 pound top round or sirloin sliced in thin strips against the grain
4 flour tortillas
1 onion, sliced thin
5 green chile peppers, sliced thin (or use 1 bell pepper if you don't like your food quite so hot)
Roque's salsa to taste (recipe follows)
Mix together oregano, garlic, soy sauce, salad oil and beer or wine. Marinate beef for 24 hours.
Heat the tortillas, wrapped in foil, in a slow oven for 5 minutes. Saute' the meat, onions and chilies in a preheated skillet until done. Drain the juices, if too much has accumulated. Place the mixture on a warmed tortilla, add salsa and fold in half.
ROQUE'S SALSA (Makes 2 cups)
This salsa improves with age.
2 cups diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 jalapenåo peppers chopped or 1 ounce chile pequin (available in the Mexican section)
1 small onion, chopped
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
Process all the ingredients in food processor until diced.
GARCIA'S MOTHER'S RED CHILI (4 servings)
1 1/2 pounds pork butt-boil for 45 minutes. j
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cooking oil or lard
8 tablespoons chili powder
2 quarts pork stock
3 cloves garlic, chopped and mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Cover pork with water and simmer for about 2 hours until the meat falls off the bone.
Brown flour in cooking oil or lard. Stir in chili powder and slowly add pork stock. Stir until lumps dissolve. Add garlic and salt. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes on medium heat.
Meanwhile separate pork from bone, discarding any gristle, and shred into tiny pieces, add to stew and simmer 10 minutes more.
Note: 1 cup of beans can be added. This can also be used as a topping for huevos rancheros, enchiladas or "anything else you want to smear it on," Garcia said.