By Robert Sietsema
Lovers of Mexican food in New York City — especially those from the West Coast — have been waiting a long time for really good birria. Be it goat or beef, this chile-laced, subtly spiced braise of brown meat is said to have originated in the state of Jalisco, but has become a signature of Tijuana, East LA, and points in between. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never forget its unspeakably rich flavor — and the unique method of eating it, too, which can involve dipping your taco in consomme between bites.
Not long ago, a white van pulled up to the corner of 78th Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, an area long known for its Mexican food trucks. Most of these serve Pueblan antojitos like quesadillas, sopes, and tlacoyos. And, yes, a few trucks and taquerias around town have offered birria before, but it was generally a pallid rendition, with the exception of the Tacos El Bronco truck near Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where the birria is offered in a cup.
This truck, however, was different. It only sold one thing. The come-on emblazoned across the side of the truck says Tacos de Birria, while the name of the truck playfully and punningly qualifies it: Beefrria-Landia. The truck offers beef birria as a taco, a tostada, or a mulita, a pair of tortillas with melted cheese and birria in between.
Any of these is fine, but the method of preparing the tortillas for the tacos is also distinctive. They are crisped on a griddle and then dipped in beef fat, so that they achieve a semi-crunchy but not inflexible texture. The beef filling is damp and red and shredded, and a thick salsa de guajillo is squirted upon it.
But here’s the kicker. You should buy a cup of consomme for $2, an oily carmine soup heavily scented with cilantro, and dip the taco or tostada or mulita in it before taking a bite. Don’t ask me why, but it improves the experience about 30 percent. And, of course, you’ll drink down the soup after you’ve eaten your birria taco, tostada, or mulita ($2, $2, $3, respectively). Note that the mulita arrives extravagantly gluey and voluminous enough that two make a full meal.
The proprietors, brothers José and Jesús Moreno, put a few stools out on the sidewalk for customers to sit on while eating their birria. During my visit, one leaned out of the dispensing window to examine the foot traffic on the busy sidewalk, and told me he hails from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. He also told me he’d studied birria in Tijuana before he came here. The result is a birria experience probably as good as any I’ve eaten in LA. What we’re lacking now is all the contrasting kinds of birria, with different points of origin, available there.