GUIDES

Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Birria

By Joshua Lurie | February 3, 2010 16 comments
Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Birria

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles
Since the first Taco Task Force mission turned out to be so successful, we reconvened on January 3, 2010. Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet L.A., Matthew Kang (Mattatouille), Javier Cabral (The Glutster) Cathy Danh (gas•tron•o•my), her fiancé Vernon and I crisscrossed Los Angeles to determine the best birria taco in L.A.

There were certain factors we were interested in assessing at each stop, including the quality of the goat meat, the condiments/tortilla, the quality of the cooking and the overall flavor. This time, we voted to dispense with the oh-so-vague “authenticity” category, since Esparza and Cabral are the only members of the task force with extensive Mexican travel experience. Instead, we relied on some context courtesy of Mr. Esparza:

“We are doing goat birria from the heart of Mexico, Jalisco and Zacatecas. This birria is a dry chile adobo usually with ancho, guajillo, and cascabel; cumin, peppercorns, and cloves as a principal spicings; broiled tomatoes are used in the sauce.

The whole goat is usually roasted slowly in an oven, the drippings are blended with tomatoes to make a sauce that is added to the goat prior to serving. Chopped white onion and cilantro are added at the table and tacos made with fresh tortillas.

Authenticity-should be oven roasted, sauce prepared from drippings, served with oregano and chopped onions and homemade tortillas. Unlike baja fish tacos, the norm here are tortillas hecho a mano.”

Here’s my rundown, with interspersed scoresheets featuring Jo for Joshua, B for Bill, Ja for Javier, C for Cathy and her fiance Vernon and M for Matthew. We rated each category using a 5 point scale.

1. Birrieria Chalio
3580 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, 323 268 5349
Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles
Our first stop was at a 24-year-old Boyle Heights classic that specializes in birria representative of Nochistlan, Zacatecas. We sat in a green booth, surrounded by Aztec imagery. Stuffed goat and deer heads lined the walls. We had easy access to kid-friendly vending machines, but chose goat over gumballs.

Birria Los Angeles
We split a plate of rib and leg meat ($9.95). It cost an extra $2 for condiments, including fluffy, pancake-like corn tortillas. That was money well spent. The chile-lacquered meat wasn’t funky enough, and the accompanying consomé was bland, but the texture was nice and crusty. A bonus was the bottle of punchy habanero clove sauce typical of Zacatecas.

Grade of Key Ingredient: Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 3.5, M 3 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Condiment/Tortilla: Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3 AVERAGE 3.4/5
Overall Flavor: Jo 3, B 3, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.3/5
Cooking: Jo 3.5, B 3, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.4/5

OVERALL BIRRIERIA CHALIO TACO SCORE: 3.4/5

2. Birrieria Guadalajara
1128 South Atlantic Boulevard, Los Angeles, 323 268 8885

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles
This plain-looking East L.A. restaurant featured shelves stocked with tiny goat figurines, a well-stocked jukebox and soccer on TV. The owner is from El Salvador, which doesn’t necessarily disqualify their birria from contention.

Birria Los Angeles
The leg and thigh meat was dry and flavorless, and the consomé lacked any complexity. The minced onions were red instead of white, which hinted at inauthenticity, but no matter the color of the onion, it wasn’t going to make a difference at our least impressive stop of the day.

Grade of Key Ingredient: Jo 1, B 1.5, Ja 1, CV 1.5, M 1.5 AVERAGE 1.3/5
Condiment/Tortilla: Jo 2, B 1, Ja 1.5, CV 0.5, M 1.5 AVERAGE 1.3/5
Overall Flavor: Jo 1, B 1, Ja 1, CV 1, M 1 AVERAGE 1/5
Cooking: Jo 0.5, B 1.5, Ja 1, CV 0.5, M 2 AVERAGE 1.1/5

OVERALL BIRRIERIA GUADALAJARA TACO SCORE: 1.175/5

3. Tepeque
3249 East Gage Avenue, Huntington Park, 323 588 8350

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles
Tepeque is a wonderful birria emporium in the style of Michoacan. Owner Gerardo Gutierrez has been making birria for 15 years and hails from Apatzingan in the region’s Tierra Caliente.

Mexican Restaurant Los Angeles
We sat at a large table in the middle of the room, surrounded by aqua booths and intricate murals, not only of goats, but also of beaches with palapas.

Birria Los Angeles
Tepeque’s typical order of birria consists of shoulder meat from a young goat ($8.99). This was the juiciest goat meat of the day, with an intoxicating consomé with a winning goat funk.

Birria Los Angeles
We also loaded up goat ribs (costillas), greedily ripping tender, juice-soaked meat from tiny bones.

Salsa Los Angeles
Salsas were especially impactful at Tepeque. House-made chips came with dishes of salsa de arbol and tomatillo. Upon request, we received a concentrated salsa packed with salsa de arbol, dried chilies and oil.

Grade of Key Ingredient: Jo 4.5, B 4.5, Ja 4, CV 5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.5/5
Condiment/Tortilla: Jo 4.5, B 4, Ja 4, CV 4, M 4 AVERAGE 4.1/5
Overall Flavor: Jo 4, B 4, Ja 4, CV 5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.3/5
Cooking: Jo 4.5, B 5, Ja 4, CV 5, M 5 AVERAGE 4.7/5

OVERALL TEPEQUE TACO SCORE: 4.4/5

GUIDE CONTINUED ON THE NEXT PAGE

Comments

  1. Oscar Cisneros says:

    Thanks for putting together the list. My grandfather Manuel Cisneros started El Parian in 1963 and I literally grew up in the birreria so of course I am biased. Nothing beats the consome con tortillas. Actually i use to order a half order of carnitas with my birria and let the carnitas soak in the consome and that was the bomb.

    I would order costillas(ribs) and espinazo(spinal cord) and remove the meat from the bones, place it in a tortilla slab some salsa, onion and cilantro and and dip it in the consome… nothing better than that….just some tips from someone who has birria ingrained in their DNA…

    I would also recommend my uncles birrieria in Pomona…El Cabrito…It is really, really good….2055 South Reservoir Street Pomona, CA 91766‎ (909) 464-8091

  2. yummy foods..however sad to see the goat..

  3. I love eating food like this. I live in Oceanside CA. and eat at Diegos a lot. They have the big crunchy Taco’s with real shredded beef. I don’t think I could ever go a week without eating there at least once.

  4. [...] Food GPS, Mattatouille and Crew on the Birria Taco Task Force [...]

  5. found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  6. Bricia can handle like 10 stops in one day. Alright glutster, get on the potato tacos, I’ve got the barbacoa booted up and ready to go, no unknown quantities this time. And, a new find.

  7. Not before we do potato tacos first :)

    KCRW also wants in actually. As always, thanks for being the first to write and inspiring the rest of us to get on it!

    see you around.

  8. Bricia says:

    seriously, this is great… I posted it on my FB ; ) — you know, us normal people, that’s what we have.. Facebook (Foodmarathon’s words)
    I’m so in for barbacoa

  9. Bricia says:

    I mean to say… “I want IN on the next taco task force”

  10. Bricia says:

    By far, one of the best posts I’ve seen. I want it on the next taco task force..

  11. Hobson's Choice says:

    I love Tepeque. I hope this post helps get them more attention. And I have never tried the goat at Flor del Rio. I will have to get out there as soon as possible. Thanks for the tip.

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