Birria—like its cousin, barbacoa—is a preparation, not an ingredient. Both are (or least used to be) traditionally prepared in an earthen oven, and the main component can be any meat or other food that can withstand the cooking process. In the Mexican state of Jalisco, where birria originated, that usually means goat or lamb (chivo and borrego, respectively). With birria de res, tortillas are brushed, dipped, or washed in the dish’s consommé before being finished on a flattop griddle, giving the tacos a pop of reddish orange that distinguishes them from other styles. When cheese is added, they take on the name quesatacos or quesitacos.
In the past several months, there’s been an explosion in birria de res across Texas. That might have something to do with the Tijuana-style dish’s raging popularity in Southern California and the steady flow of Californians to Texas. In 2018, more than 86,000 people moved from California to the Lone Star State. Joshua Palacios, who was born in El Paso but raised in East Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, says he and his wife, Martha Sánchez, opened their San Antonio taco truck, El Remedio, in part because they missed L.A. flavors. Sanchez’s father was a birria expert in his Michoacán hometown; now they’re following in his tradition.
For Joseph Quellar of JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ, birria de res allows the pitmaster-taquero to expand regional foodways. He uses brisket and oxtail in his birria and smokes it. Both Palacios and Quellar serve their birria with the classic accompaniment of vermillion-colored consommé, loaded with cilantro and chopped white onions and bobbing threads of beef.
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These cooks aren’t alone. Driven in part by the social media sensations of L.A. birria de res purveyors such as Teddy’s Red Tacos, birria de res is now found at taquerias, trailers, and restaurants across several Texas cities. Here are seven of our favorites. Expect to see an increase in restaurants offering birria de res on their menus in the coming months.
Executive chef Joel Ramirez’s résumé includes time at Mexico City’s Pujol, considered a pilgrimage-worthy destination for contemporary Mexican food at its finest. At Chilangos Tacos on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas, Ramirez serves rich, mouth-coating birria de res based on a recipe developed by his uncle and using a mix of brisket, beef cheek, and beef shank. The mixture adds an abundance of meat from the brisket, and the cheek lends its fattiness to amp up the consommé’s flavor, which is rounded out by the bone-in shank. Consommé costs extra, but it’s required. You can’t have birria without consommé.
Birrieria y Taqueria Cortez
Two and half hours into this taco trailer’s first day of business in February, there was a forty-minute wait. Twenty minutes before opening on their second day of business, Birrieria y Taqueria Cortez posted to their Facebook page that because of technical and kitchen difficulties they would be five hours late in opening. The delay, according to the post, allowed staff to ensure quality control. It’s a heckuva way to start off, but it does speak to the high demand for birria de res locally. Cortez’s birria is plump, but shreds at the lightest touch; it’s based on a recipe brought from Jalisco to Texas by general manager Baby Cortez’s grandmother.
El Remedio began as a catering operation in 2017 and transitioned into a food trailer seven months ago. The line for Joshua Palacio and Martha Sánchez’s signature dish can be at least thirty minutes long and, much like barbecue pilgrims, some folks can be left without plates of tacos and cups of consommé if the food runs out. The demand is that high. Nevertheless, the couple has worked hard to scale up production. They started out making sixty pounds of birria daily. Now, the El Remedio crew preps two hundred pounds of the stuff for each day of their weekends-only service. Its recipe and all the others on the menu, including the carnitas, are passed down from Sánchez’s father, who, along with his three brothers, hails from Sahuayo in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where the clan is known for its birria. Martha Sánchez was also born there. “You see people selling birria on every corner,” she says of her hometown. “Everyone has their own way of making it,” Palacios adds. El Remedio might just be setting the standard for San Antonio.
JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ
This Houston-area pop-up’s take on birria mixes brisket and oxtail for a depth of flavor unlike any other. Further distinguishing pitmaster-taquero Joseph Quellar’s birria de res is the option to order it in the melted-cheese costra. Although experimentation is part of the point, Quellar says, ultimately it’s about reminding diners that Tex-Mex isn’t a culinary relic: “[It’s] more than just some generic fajitas, queso, and margaritas.”
This suburban strip-center taqueria is owned by immigrants from the Mexican state of Michoacán, home to birria aplenty. The beef is sweet with twinges of gaminess and is served with a large cup of consommé. I recommend taking a couple of swigs of the liquid for a refreshing end to a meal at Lucas Tacos.
Revolver Taco Lounge
Regino Rojas has made a name for himself and Revolver Taco Lounge—as well as the restaurant’s reservation-only backroom dining space, the Purépecha Room—by offering cutting-edge takes on traditional Mexican dishes. Birria de res is no exception. Beef short rib prepared on the bone in a pot with beans was on Purépecha Room’s pre-COVID-19 menu. It was served in its own consommé before Rojas closed Purépecha Room amid pandemic restrictions and to protect his elderly mother’s health. Some of that meat gets saved for the front-room taco shop, where it’s served with a netting of queso Oaxaca to keep the succulent beef from spilling out of the tortillas in a quesabirria, a quesadilla de birria. Of course, in Rojas’s cheeky, rule-breaking style, there’s no consommé paired with the selection.
La Tunita 512
Gerardo “Jerry” Guerrero hails from San Luis Potosí and started his taco trailer, La Tunita 512, in November 2019 near East Oltorf Street in Austin. The first menu offered dishes from his home state, including enchiladas potosina. Birria was available on weekends. But the birria was goat, and few customers were biting. A month after he opened, he switched to a luscious chile guajillo–bathed, brisket-based birria de res. Customers, many of them Californians, immediately began lining up, and his three pots of birria were quickly selling out. Give a taco a good dunk in the consommé, and enjoy.