Cruising down Whittier Boulevard, under the landmark steel arch, I had my choice of placed serving birria (braised goat) from Guadalajara, Ensenada fish tacos, Salvadora pupusas, and a dozen other regional specialities. (3)
Chef Carlos Hernández Cedillo, a native of Guadalajara, moved to Buenos Aires with his wide, an Argentine pastry chef, in 1997. He worked in a succession of Mexican restaurants, trying to raise the standards of their cooking, and eventually opened his own place, Quinta Escencia (The fifth sense), on the fashionable Avenida de la Libertadora. Although he made his own tortillas from nixtamal in-house, his efforts to introduce regional dishes such as birria, pozole, and tortas ahogadas met with a lukewarm reception. The most popular menu item among Argentine customers was a massive sampler platter of fajitas, tacos, and burritos—all with beef. (173)
These quotes from Planet Taco by Jeffrey M. Pilcher are the sole two instances of the word “birria”—which is quite the shame, given that they do no justice to the dish. In both cases, the bowl was passed over and ignored, in favor of something different.
The glossary describes birria as “Spicy goat stew, a specialty of Jalisco” (263). Indeed, the place where I first tried the dish was a homey little restaurant called Birrieria Jalisco. The birria came in two forms—stew and platter—with the choice of either goat or beef. I tried the birria en su jugo chivo (the goat stew) and was wowed, to the point that I described the taste to my sister in the fairly colorful terms of “Imagine if pork and venison made sweet, sweet love.” I sprinkled on some cilantro and a dash of lime juice after trying my first few bites, making sure that I had experienced it in several ways. Each was in turn better than the last.
The meat was thick, juicy, tender, the stew wholesome and substantial, not a single flavor left by the wayside. The small bones remaining within it clacked between my spoon and the bowl as my nose inhaled the fresh scent of cilantro and the swirling, heavy aroma of the broth. The bowl was a big as my head and filling to boot. It was one of the most pleasant food experiences I’ve had in my life.
Let no reader of Planet Taco be disparaged by the sparse descriptions and “lukewarm reception.” Birria is the cure for what ails you when hearty, savory food is desired.