Birria, especially birria de res (beef), is arguably the single most popular item at many Texas taquerias right now. It’s trending all across the state: In San Antonio, the El Remedio taco truck has built its success on birra de res and its cheese-filled quesitacos. In Brownsville, El Ultimo Taco recently began serving birria de res tacos loaded with melted cheese. In Houston, JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ pop-ups have grown to serve more and more birria de res. And in Fort Worth a few months back, customers waited in line for more than two hours to try the dish on Birrieria y Taqueria Cortez’s first day in business.
But birria tacos can also be made with chivo (goat) and borrego (lamb), a fact that beef-crazed Texans seem to have forgotten. One of the best can be found at Dallas-based Birrieria Aguiñaga, which has been serving tenderly gamy birria de borrego since 2006. Its first store opened along a stretch of Dallas’s Northwest Highway that’s now known for its proliferation of Mexican sports bars, family restaurants, cramped tortillerias, and cozy strip-mall spots. Aguiñaga’s original small storefront has grown into a sprawling compound open 24 hours a day. On Saturday night, ahead of the Sunday rush, the kitchen prepares up to twelve whole lambs in ollas, or earthenware pots, that are custom-made in Mexico. This slow wood-fired cooking method imparts a delicate smokiness to the lamb meat but retains the lamb’s natural—and frankly wonderful—gamy flavor. Manager Alejandro Aguiñaga, the 21-year-old son of founders Javier and Emilia Aguiñaga, says he knows that some people are afraid to try lamb. “It’s got a distinct flavor,” he acknowledges. But Alejandro also emphasizes that his family’s restaurant business has grown to six locations in fourteen years. The last outpost opened in February in Ennis.
The Aguiñagas’ history with birria goes back much further than that. In 1954, Alejandro’s great-grandfather and grandfather, Julio and José Aguiñaga, opened a taco stall in their hometown of Ojuelos de Jalisco. In 1980, they established the larger Carniceria Aguiñaga butcher shop, which is still in operation. From an early age, Javier learned to prepare birria de borrego from his father and grandfather and dreamed of opening his own restaurant.
When the Aguiñaga family moved to Texas in the nineties, Alejandro’s father worked in construction and his mother worked as a housekeeper and nanny. On weekends in 2005, they sold birria in their driveway until they had enough money to open their first brick-and-mortar shop. Alejandro joined the business at age twelve, starting to tag along on trips to restaurant supply stores. “Now, I run everything and do everything,” he says with a chuckle.
Alejandro’s responsibilities include the Birrieria Aguiñaga drive-through in Grand Prairie. Colloquially known as Tacos y Cerveza Drive Thru, the spot, if isn’t apparent from the name, is half beer barn, half taco takeout spot. Since COVID-19 closed dine-in restaurants, the drive-through has seen a surge in customers. The menu includes quesibirria tacos, an alternative name for quesitacos. But at all Aguiñaga locations, they’re filled with borrego.
Ideal for these minimal-contact, mask-wearing pandemic times, Tacos y Cerveza Drive Thru is along Grand Prairie’s Main Street—not too far from Mas Coffee Co./Zavala’s Barbecue—and service is speedy. Pull back around to the parking lot if you’d prefer not to wait inside, and someone will walk the bagged order to your car. Within the clamshell Styrofoam boxes are tacos wrapped in doubled-up corn tortillas. They are small but packed with Birrieria Aguiñaga’s shredded lamb. The subtle and gamy flavor spreads across your mouth like a delightful wave amplified by an almost candylike, mildly spiced tomato salsa. Focus to get the smokiness, and enjoy.
507 E. Main, Grand Prairie
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily