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Taco Tuesday: Kosher birria tacos

We have been hearing about Katsuji Tanabe for so long, including his pop-ups, omnipresence at food festivals, and runs on “Chopped,” “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Mexico,” that it is sometimes easy to lose track of his actual restaurant, which is a modest taqueria in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood south of Beverly Hills. And as odd as the idea of an organic kosher taco place run by a Jewish Japanese chef from Mexico City may be, MexiKosher is surprisingly approachable — it’s basically run on the Chipotle model.

You stand at a counter, decide whether you’d like your meal as tacos, a burrito, a rice bowl, nachos or a salad, and then you choose your meat, your salsas, beans, vegetables and such, and pay for it at the register. There is a vague Yucatecan spin to the cooking here, including generous lashings of fruit in the salsas, achiote in some of the marinades, and a liberal application of borscht-pink pickled onions. The guacamole is quite good.

The food is strictly kosher – the carnitas are made from beef and duck instead of pork, the chopped carne asada has a dryish texture you may not be used to, the flour tortillas are lard-free, and you’re not going to be seeing cheese or sour cream. Also, MexiKosher is closed on Saturdays and Friday night.

Tanabe’s cooking tends to be a little sweet, on the mango-habanero end of things. The tortillas won’t make you forget your last visit to Taco Maria. The vibe is more deli than street grill. But while the birria, made with long-braised lamb and beef, may be about as far as it’s possible to get from the crisp, fatty, funky stuff you find here at Jalisco-style birrieras like Chalio, El Parian, and Tlaquepaque, it is compelling in its own right, fragrant with baking spices and the musky flavor of chiles, a step or two shy of lusciousness but with an undeniable integrity of its own.

MexiKosher, 8832 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 271-0900, www.mexikosher.com.

jonathan.gold@latimes.com

@thejgold

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