On a late February evening in 2023, the winds off the Gulf of Mexico turned the temperature in Corpus Christi from mild to teeth-chattering. Nevertheless, a friend and I were determined to cross Birrieria y Mariscos El General off our day’s itinerary of seven stops. 

I wasn’t jaded or tired from the previous six meals of serviceable tacos in commodity tortillas, but I was hopeful Birrieria y Mariscos El General would change my mind about cheesy beef birria. (I’m not a fan of the tacos that were once a trend but are now a taqueria staple.) The promise of fresh seafood dishes, such as fiery aguachiles and bright ceviche, though, was the real hook for me. 

And so, underdressed for the weather in lightweight hoodies, we walked up to the ordering window of the black truck and asked for nearly everything on the menu. Owner Noe Villalobos stopped us and recommended the seafood dishes alongside birria and consommé. He then set us up with extra plates and napkins once we sat at a picnic table. 

What followed was a strong, delectable finish to a long day. The meal didn’t protect us from the gusts of wind, but it did reduce the elements to a mere annoyance. Birrieria y Mariscos El General was just what we needed. 

The birria, a mix of chuck and rib meat that is marinated for fourteen hours and cooked for twelve, was so warming it momentarily, yet pleasantly, burned through our chests. The heat from the shrimp aguachile gave us the sniffles. The ceviche piled onto accompanying tostadas was a cooling follow-up. 

Soon after our visit, Birrieria y Mariscos El General announced it was moving to San Antonio. It wasn’t a surprise. South Texas food truck owners often talk to me about moving to the “big city.” Such moves are framed as good for business, but are also blows to the original locations. When I first read the announcement of the move, I was crestfallen. Corpus Christi was losing something special. Birrieria y Mariscos El General’s move wasn’t about money, though. It was personal. “My mom was diagnosed with cancer,” Villalobos says. “I needed to take care of her.”

It was a bit of a homecoming for him. His family had emigrated from Zacatecas to Southern California when Villalobos was thirteen. In 2006, when he was eighteen, they moved to San Antonio to get away from rising housing and gas costs as well as the bad traffic, he says. Life was better in the Alamo City—calmer, slower, just what they wanted. Then Villalobos took up work in large construction jobs—building refineries, cement plants, and power plants—while handling welding, painting, and whatever else was required of him. His jobs took him across the country and finally to Corpus Christi in 2016. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, Corpus! It’s like you live in paradise.’ ” He and his immediate family relocated to Corpus Christi shortly thereafter. 

In 2020, Villalobos, who was a general foreman at the time, started bringing plates of beef birria and consommé to work. The recipe he used was one his father had developed in 1960. The food was a hit. Plates turned into pounds, which turned into selling food out of his house while keeping his day job. As the pandemic worsened, Villalobos quit his job. “We had a special needs baby at home. I didn’t want to get her sick, and the birria was doing real good,” he recalls. And thus Birrieria y Mariscos El General was born.

Customers ordering and waiting for their food.
Customers ordering and waiting for their food. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Birria sopes at Birrieria y Mariscos El General.
Birria sopes at Birrieria y Mariscos El General. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Left: Customers ordering and waiting for their food. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Top: Birria sopes at Birrieria y Mariscos El General. Photograph by José R. Ralat

Villalobos found a trailer and was waiting for inspections, which were slow or impossible to come by during the pandemic. In the meantime, he continued to sell birria, and also plates of aguachile and ceviche, from his home. Then someone who Villalobos can’t identify called the health department to complain that he was selling alcohol, specifically, micheladas. The taquero told me he was substituting the beer in the Mexican drink for mineral water. That’s what city inspectors found when they arrived at Villalobos’s home. Villalobos told them he had been attempting to get permits and licenses, but nothing was happening. He offered them a taste of the food, and according to Villalobos, right then and there, they promised to fast track everything. “They gave me the permits and put me on the street,” he explains. 

When Birrieria y Mariscos El General officially opened later that spring, the reception took Villalobos by surprise. Lines were immediate and overwhelming. He didn’t sleep over concerns of whether he’d have enough food for the day. He didn’t want to sell out. Yet, his daily allotment of two hundred pounds of beef was gone in three hours.

But again, taking care of his mother was paramount. After driving between San Antonio and Corpus Christi to attend to his mother for several months. Villalobos moved his family and Birrieria y Mariscos El General full time to the Alamo City in July 2023. At first, he served from a spot downtown, but he quickly relocated to a stretch of road lined with food trucks in far northwest San Antonio. Business was good, but daily life was rough. “San Antonio is like a little California now,” he says. “You need at least two hours to get anywhere.” His mom recovered from cancer, so Villalobos and his wife moved back to Corpus Christi in February of this year and reestablished the food truck. The lines of hungry customers returned. 

It was late March when we revisited Birrieria y Mariscos El General. The parking lot was full and the line was long. Once we got to the register, Villalobos told us he was sold out of aguachile and ceviche. All he had left was birria in sope, torta, and taco forms. The protein was dark and pulled to long strings of juicy beef. It was best in the sopes, the firm, thick discs with crimped edges held the birria nicely and added a textural juxtaposition. The torta was greasy, though, and tacos—gummy with every bite—weren’t as good as I remembered. It was the end of the day—we had waited too long to show up. 

The next afternoon, however, everything (except the long lines) changed. We finally got our aguachile, panchos (an oft-used name for nachos in South Texas), ceviche, and tacos. Everything hit the spot. The mariscos were spicy and sweat-inducing, as they should’ve been. Munching on the seafood panchos was messy, but the fried tortillas were excellent vehicles. The tacos, too, were much better. The breeze off the Corpus Christi beaches accentuated the meal. The birria tacos’ heat, spice, and slight sweetness restored my faith in the preparation.

During our conversation, Villalobos recounted his experience in Texas and with the trailer. Then he briefly mentioned his teenage years in California. His family was poor and his mother could only give him a dollar for lunch. That was enough for a slice of pizza and a soda. “I would eat behind the garbage dumpster so nobody saw me,” he recalls. When the classroom bell rang, he’d return to the school building, only to be taunted with racial slurs. That seems so long ago. As Villalobos puts it, “The sun comes out for everybody.” 

Birrieria y Mariscos El General
5440 Kostoryz Road, Corpus Christi
Phone: 361-461-6888
Hours: Thursday–Sunday 11–11 (or sold out)