Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA takes food – particularly regional Mexican food – very seriously, so when he started tweeting about adventures in distant San Fernando Valley neighborhoods like Sun Valley and Pacoima, I was instantly interested. His legwork led to a satisyfing Ensenada style seafood truck called Mariscos El Tetos, and later that day, he and I returned to Birrieria Apatzingan, a two-year-old Michoacan style restaurant next to Super Stop market that’s now operated by proprietor Adriana Ochoa.
The bright orange building calls to passing drivers with colorful murals of the dishes, and the entire menu. Inside, you’ll find a handful of tables, a jukebox, and a strange painting of Chef Martin Cruz on the wall, with him strangling a disembodied goat head with a smile. There is one capital improvement in the works, a mural of Apatzingan’s cathedral.
During each visit, Chef Cruz was gone by the time we arrived mid-afternoon. However, diligent disciples still took care when cooking our food. Past the counter, we could see our chicken pan-frying in a skillet.
Enchiladas (Pollo) ($7.99) were the highlight of my first visit with Bill. Crispy miniature enchiladas involved crispy tortilla shells cooked in sweet California chile sauce. They were filled with salty crumbles of cotija, sweet onion and oregano. Chicken and potatoes were pan-fried in the same chile sauce, and it infused the juicy dark meat and crispy cubes. A refreshing salad involved crisp shredded lettuce topped with more cotija, sliced tomato and thin-shaved onion. Tangy pickled carrots and spicy jalapeno helped to round out the dish.
Chavindeca ($4) is similar to a mulita, since it’s a jam-packed tortilla “sandwich.” However, in this case, the fillings were limited to juicy carne asada and molten Monterey jack. The corn tortillas were fresh-grilled and floppy. Even though a central dish of salsa contained jalapeno, the spice was far from overpowering.
On my second visit, we were joined by Dave “The Uber Geek,” of Mange l’Orange, Chowhound fame and a certain Orange County publication. We split a Birria Chica ($6.25) and quickly regretted not ordering a larger bowl. The broth struck a good balance of goat-y funk and chile spice. In this case, there was also a hint of sweetness that we rarely found on our Taco Task Force: Birria mission. We dressed the soup with cilantro, minced onion and a squeeze of lime, then jockeyed for the single bone-in cut of goat meat, which was tender, juicy and came apart in shreds.
Morisqueta con Costilla ($7.99) was a seemingly simple plate of pinto beans and rice piled with pork ribs and sprinkled with cotija. However, the flavors were fairly bold, with a tangy, subtly spicy salsa verde that seeped into the chewy rib meat.
Chilaquiles con Pollo ($7.99) were fairly dry compared to most versions I’ve tasted, with very little salsa, and the tortilla strips were burnt in many cases, but I’d still consider this a successful stir-fry thanks to the crusty bits of chicken and egg and salty blanket of cotija.
Cuaresma (Lent) ended on April 3, but on April 9, Birrieria Apatzingan was still offering a Lenten specialty: Tortitas de Cameron. The spongy shrimp cakes soaked up the mild Guajillo chile sauce to good effect. Restaurants like La Casita Mexicana include pungent herbs like romeritos, and I can’t handle their intensity, but in this case, there was no such issue.
Birrieria Apatzingan was another good find from Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, which will no doubt prompt more exploration in the north Valley, not only by him, but also by other curious bloggers.