Welcome to L.A. TACO’s Birria Week! Birria in Los Angeles is limitless, with some birrierías open for close to 50 years. Even though there’s a heated debate between birria de res and chivo. At L.A. TACO, we celebrate both, and the folks doing new things altogether. We’ll be exploring the many ways to find and eat birria in L.A. all week long, so make sure to check back every day this week.
If birria de chivo is the nexus of birria, then we’ve reached a post-structuralism era of birria. Creations that harness both beef and chivo birria, whether that’s fueled by curiosity, subversion, or even sacrilege, birria has become universal.
Birria has reached the singularity, soon we’ll start to see sentient birria, walking among us, just like people made of cake. We’ll have to accept them as humans even if they leave a wet trail of consomé like a slug.
This list is dedicated to all the odds and ends and creative concoctions that use birria like George Washington Carver used peanuts—the possibilities are endless. Inventions like birria keto tacos, birria egg rolls, birria ramen, birria tamales, birria burgers, birria pupusa, and birria pizza. Try these to unlock your birria third eye, and accept that birria will outlive us all.
During the pandemic, Yunia Funes Mata was homesick for the tamales from her hometown of Guadalajara, so she started making her own. Mata started Tamales Olmeca, after getting encouragement from her friends and colleagues at Bestia, where she currently works. Her tamales were so good that she even got the attention of Chef Ori Menashe who encouraged sharing her tamales with the world. Ori even gifted her the recipe for mole that you’ll find inside the Al La Bestia tamal, filled with duck and Ori’s savory mole. Each tamal is perfectly moist, with a sharp but pleasant taste of maiz. Fillings like chicken with mole, carnitas with salsa verde, bean and cheese with a roasted chile, and for our purposes birria de res with cheese.
Goat Mafia has been a stalwart defender of birria de chivo. This year they joined the roster of Smorgasburg selling taco trios showcasing their strengths. Around tamal szn (season) they bring back their tamal filled with their robust chivo birria. When you bite into Chef Juan Garcia’s tamal that he makes with the tender masa, locally sourced from Kernel of Truth, that first bite is harmonious. The meat chivo itself is front and center but not overpowering and piled high atop a pillow of masa. Along with queso, Oaxaca cheese crisp blankets the tamal, with purposeful slivers of pickled onions, drizzled crema, and crunchy salsa macha for added spice and texture. – Gab Chabrán
Sundays at Smorgasburg: 777 S Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
A birria smash burger might seem like a congregation of food buzzwords but Alan Cruz, pitmaster of A’s BBQ in East Los, found a way to make it his own. Cruz spent several months R&Ding this burger and found a way to make it without birria. He decided to treat it like a regular smash burger, but the meat is seasoned with birria spices and a three-blend of chiles: guajillo, ancho, and chipotle. On the burger goes grilled sweet onions, birria-seasoned smashed patties, chile de arbol spread, a slice of white cheese, and his ace in the hole, a pipette filled with a 24-hour bone broth consomé.
If you find yourself in Rosemead, hungry, and in the mood for birria, then Rose City Pizza will meet those very specific needs. This pizzeria is in a shopping center filled with chain restaurants and department stores. Known for their inventive pizza with a cracker-like crust, their best-sellers are a pizza topped with birria de res and another with al pastor. But they all specialties like elote with hot Cheetos, char siu, and the Manila Sunrise, a Filipino-style breakfast pizza with longanisa. The birria de res pizza is topped with beef birria, squirt of lime, a mild chile de árbol salsa, diced onions, and sliced rabano coins. Served with a cup of consomé, that tastes of birria spices and a faint hint of cinnamon. Make sure to ask for an extra side of salsa, you’ll need it.
The beauty of L.A. Birria Pizza is that each pizza is treated like a taco. The dough is smeared with beans instead of tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, birria de res, a zig-zag of salsa de aguacate, onion, and cilantro. But it doesn’t end there, if you don’t want it to, make sure to ask for salsa verde, roja, and macha and limes. The option to add extra condiments is part of what makes this work, suddenly a pizza that’s salt and rich with beef and cheese, becomes spicy and acidic—just like a taco. No pizza experience is complete without wings and at this birriería pizzería they have aguachile wings. Baked, plump drums and flats, doused in an aguachile sauce made with limes, serranos, and cilantro.
Someone once called lengua the ‘filet mignon of taco meats’ and that may not be a far-off comparison. It’s a mostly lean cut of meat with a buttery tenderness in texture, but unlike filet mignon, lengua is unjustly underrated. Many taqueros in Los Angeles forget to appreciate this desirable quality of lengua and treat it like any meat by chopping it up to its shredded end and denying the taco eater the experience of biting through its meaty texture. But not at Birria Don Cuco; they serve this coveted meat in sugar cube-sized chunks piled onto a tortilla, covered in onions, cilantro, and sweat-inducing hot red salsa. – Memo Torres
Walking Spanish is a pop-up started by Rene Alesandro Coreas who cooks modern riffs on Central American food. Most sought-after for The Savior, a fried chicken version of pan con pollo, filled with a fried chicken cutlet doused in relajo, radishes, and cucumbers for crunch, on a brioche bun. But equally fascinating is the way that Coreas uses pupusas to reflect L.A., like the East Los which has consomé-infused masa giving it a red hue and stuffed with birria from Birrieria Jimenez, cheese, lime, onions, and cilantro. This pupusa is wholly an L.A. invention that interprets and combines cultures through a Central American lens. Also, they have one of the best pop-up names, named after a Tom Waits song about death row.
L.A. Birria recently opened a brick-and-mortar in South Central promising the same birria creations they’ve offered throughout the years and more. The birria spider taco was among their first creations, think of a birria de res taco with lacy crispy cheese bigger than the tortilla. The birria chow mein, while interesting in concept, ends up just being garlic noodles with birria chunks hidden throughout. The birria ramen, on the other hand, is quite good, a large bowl of consomé with chewy ramen noodles, a section of corn, poached egg, and rabanos. They claim to be the inventors of birria ramen. The birria egg roll has bubbly wonton skin, with a faint taste of flour and oil, stuffed with cheese, beans, and birria.