Taco Task Force: Los Angeles Birria
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
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.
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
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.
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
3249 East Gage Avenue, Huntington Park, 323 588 8350
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