Hard to pronounce, but easy to love, birria is one of Mexico’s most glorious dishes. The soupy stew is revered as a hangover cure or a hearty meal anytime. Served with lemon wedges, chopped onions, cilantro and fresh corn tortillas, it’s Mexican food at its best—simple, bold and delicious.
I guess I forgot to mention that it’s made with goat. But wait! Don’t run away. Hear me out. Goat doesn’t get near enough love in this country, but I predict its day is coming. Worldwide, more people eat goat than any other single animal.
Because of their small size and adaptability, goats don’t require the vast amounts of land, feed and water that cattle do, making them an environmentally superior source of protein. It’s easier to digest than beef, and it’s low fat, too. Of course, none of that matters if it doesn’t taste any good. But if you like lamb, then you’ll like goat. It has a pleasing tang, and the meat lends itself well to slow cooking, barbecuing and stewy, spicy dishes like birria.
One of the best places to experience birria is east San Jose’s aptly named La Birrieria, even harder to pronounce than the restaurant’s namesake dish. La Birrieria is 100 percent Mexican. The tidy, family-run restaurant is located next to a liquor store off South White Road and can be easy to miss. Inside, the wood-paneled walls, handwritten signs and family photos give the place a welcoming, friendly appeal. But most appealing of all is the birria.
The soup arrives in a plain white bowl. The chile pepper–powered broth is tinted a deep, brick red and has a satisfying depth of flavor that stops a few steps short of too spicy or too salty. The goat meat itself is tender and stringy with just a bit of fat clinging to it. Squeezing lemon juice into the soup and mixing in spoonfuls of chopped onion and cilantro take it to another level of deliciousness. A full bowl is $9. There are other ways to try the birria: one with meat on the side and one with goat ribs. You can also try the low-commitment goat tacos ($3), with goat meat inside superb handmade tortillas and a small bowl of birria broth on the side. This is a good choice for first-timers. While birria is the star attraction here, there are other options.
Birria is the pride of the state of Jalisco, but the restaurant serves a great version of enchiladas Michoacan ($11.90), four tortillas dipped in a chile sauce and filled with a light sprinkling of dry Mexican cheese and excellent pan-fried chicken served on the side. The enchiladas Jalisco ($9.90) come filled with a choice of meat and are also good. For another taste of Michoacan, try the uchepos ($3), a tamalelike snack made with sweet corn.
Pozole ($9) is another classic Mexican soup. This one is made with slow-cooked cubes of pork, hominy and chile-enlivened broth. The recommended accompaniments are dried Mexican oregano, dried chiles and more squeezes of lemon. The broth is tamer than the color would suggest, so I relied heavily on the chile flakes to take the soup up to my preferred level of spiciness. Agua frescas ($3) are great, here, too, especially the creamy horchata.
The one disappointment was the sopes ($9.90). The goat, beef and chicken toppings were good, but the thick masa patties on which they rode were chewy when they should have been crisp and light. But at a place called La Birrieria (literally the birria-serving place), it’s really all about the birria.