My first run-in with Los Verracos happened last summer at an Independence Day celebration on the grounds of U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Petworth. Vending was organized Grey DC, an incubator for local culinary entrepreneurs, and though the assembled food stands offered a broad range of sweet and savory treats and cold beverages, I was there for one thing: Wesley Tahsir-Rodriguez’s pan-cultural porchetta sandwich. His twist on the classic Italian roast pork seems to have become something of a signature dish for Los Verracos, which hosts supper clubs and participates in various food events throughout D.C. In this inaugural installment of the Eat a Sandwich Q&A, we asked Wesley about his company, his unique porchetta and his favorite sandwich in the District.
Tell us about Los Verracos. What? Who? Why?
Los Verracos Foods was started in 2009 by two close friends and I. It started innocently as a word-of-mouth BBQ that brought friends from New York City to the ‘burbs in New Jersey. We roasted a nice-sized pig and had a great time with it. When we did it again, we decided to butcher a pig and take different parts of the pig and use traditional Latino, Italian and Thai recipes to make a farm-to-table-type experience in one day.
We remain great friends and business partners. I had to relocate to D.C. for a job in health policy and another friend got pulled away to Hawaii for a job. I decided to carry on the torch here in D.C. using the same concept we started with. We’ve leaned towards Latin and Caribbean cooking because that is my background, and it’s what I know best.
I first heard about Grey DC’s Grey Market when it was held at Kushi near Chinatown. I really appreciated the stuff people were making in their homes, and I was equally impressed with the people that came to buy their wares. I just felt that we had a concept that people would like and there was a void for some of our stuff down here.
What are your aspirations for Los Verracos?
The D.C. food scene is growing very quickly. We have had an amazing response to what we are trying to do and are having some difficulty figuring out what our next move will be. I have a full-time job that I am trying to hold onto, and that’s impeding our progress to some extent. We have been approached to do several projects, but we are trying to be strategic in what we do because we want to do it on our terms. We want to succeed, but we want to do things that are fun and uncompromising.
I’ve had a chance to enjoy Los Verracos’ porchetta sandwich on two occasions. How did that sandwich come about?
Porchetta is something I enjoyed when I lived in New York. There is actually a restaurant there that sells only these classic Roman roadside sandwiches. Porchetta is traditionally made from a roast of whole pig outsides wrapped around offal; I don’t think that would really fly in America. We use pork loin, which is a fairly lean cut, and wrap it with a skin-on pork belly. We use fresh herbs (fennel is a big ingredient) that really give it a fresh taste. The whole thing is roasted for about 20 hours, so the fat from the pork belly melts and really tenderizes the pork loin. We top the porchetta with crackling for texture, and we added a little twist by adding some pickled veggies that are done with an Asian-style pickle. The bread in D.C. is a really challenge. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood with some really good bread. We did a lot of bread tasting and found a decent and affordable bread at Whole Foods.
What’s your favorite sandwich right now?
My favorite sandwich in D.C. is the Chivito from Fast Gourmet at the corner of 14th Street and W Street. They bake their own bread, and it’s pretty good. This sandwich is definitely not for those on a diet. There is filet mignon, bacon, an escabeche sauce. I have guilt, but never regret after eating it.