Mike Sula has an excellent piece on Birrieria Zaragoza
in this week's Reader. I've been to Zaragoza four times now and (obviously) think very highly of the place. As Mike describes in the article, they specialize in birria tatemada, the roasted style characteristic of La Barca, Jalisco. La Barca is just east of Ocotlan, another town well known for their way with goat.
Birrieria Zaragoza, on a stretch of S Pulaski with more than its fair share of great eating, occupies a building once home to a Sinaloan chicken specialist.
The menu is simple: birria by the pound, in tacos, or by the plate.
A typical weekday plate consists of a pile of shredded goat just moistened with consome.
The goat has excellent flavor and some nice crisp edges, very different from the spent soup meat ladled out by many lesser birrierias. Accompaniments are few but worthy. The tomato-based consome is subtly spiced and blessedly low on salt. A thin chile de arbol based salsa (with a hint of chocolate) can be used to heat things up, or simply crumble on a few toasted chiles. Sometimes a freshly made tomato salsa is available. Excellent tortillas are made in house (on weekends you can watch as they're cooked to order behind the counter). Drinks include Mexican Coke, Pepsi and Squirt.
Weekends are the best time to visit as whole goats are cooked and all parts of the animal are available.
This Saturday plate holds a rib (top; unbelievably delicious), some chewier flank (left) as well as some shredded shoulder (right). At least that's what I believe it was. My poor knowledge of goat anatomy and dismal ordering skills haven't allowed me to ask for the "love handles" or other choice morsels. Actually, that shouldn't stop anyone. Birrieria Zaragoza is one of the most welcoming, unintimidating Mexican restaurants imaginable.
Birrieria La Barca can be found toward the western edge of the 26th Street business district.
Like Zaragoza, they specialize in birria tatemada, employing a two-step protocol of stovetop steaming followed by oven roasting. Their approach to birria is somewhat different however. Where Zaragoza emphasizes subtlety and restraint, La Barca has a more exuberant style, their consome singing with spice and chile. We ordered without the benefit of menus; only later did I realize there was the option of birria con machito (a side of offal for an extra $1.50).
The meat has the wonderful crust characteristic of birria tatemada. The superb accompaniments deserve comment. The table salsa has the viscosity of a tomatillo salsa but is enlivened with plenty of dried red chiles (arbol?) and sesame seeds. Great stuff. Marinated jicama and knob onions were teriffic but I thought the salad of nopales would have been better with less cooking time. As good as the tortillas are at Zaragoza, I think La Barca's may be better—more irregular and with a wonderful pliable texture. They sent over an order of tacos dorados that highlighted these stellar tortillas.
La Barca has many of the usual beverages but it would be a shame to pass up the tepache and tejuino. Their version of tepache—a fermented pineapple beverage—is a little tamer than some others and might be a good introduction.
It's served with a small bowl of baking soda you can add to generate a little carbonation. The tejuino—a fermented masa and piloncillo drink—is perhaps a bit more challenging. Before serving, it's combined with a bracing mix of lime juice and rock salt. I thought I hated tejuino until I tried this version.
These are my two favorite birrierias at the moment, playing in a different league than some others I used to visit. Despite underlying similarities, they're different enough that it makes little sense to rank them. Try 'em both.
4852 S Pulaski Rd
Birrieria La Barca
4304 W 26th St