The last time I went to Aqui Es Texcoco, the kitchen had run out of lamb. And while this might not have been a problem in most Mexican restaurants, where you'd shrug and move on to the roast pork or the mojarra, Aqui Es Texcoco is more or less a one-dish restaurant — that dish being barbacoa in the style of the Mexico City-adjacent Texcoco, an area as famous for pit-roasted lamb as it is for its Aztec ruins.
When you see the word "Texcoco" on the sign of a restaurant or food stand, you know there is going to be pit-roasted lamb. When you get in your car and drive to the odd neighborhood of industrial parks in which you find Aqui Es Texcoco, you are not there for the Mexican craft beers, the promise of handmade pulque or the sturdy quesadillas, you are there for vast portions of lamb, chewy and gelatinous and touched with crunchy bits of char, piled on sheets of aluminum foil. You eat the lamb with stacks of hot tortillas, puddles of beans, freshly made guacamole and foam cups of consommé fashioned from the drippings of the lamb, served so hot that your flimsy plastic spoon is likely to curl up in its depths.
Lamb barbacoa at Aqui Es Texcoco is a perfect supper on a hot Sunday afternoon, perhaps accompanied by a Cucapá pale ale or two. I have often driven to the restaurant's original U.S. location in Chula Vista for lunch, and I have always been happy I did. (I have never been to the Tijuana original.) I once even visited a San Diego restaurant called Aqui Esta Texcoco by mistake. I love the slightly different lamb barbacoa at My Taco, Borrego de Oro and El Borrego as de Oro in Los Angeles, but I was ecstatic when this Aqui Es Texcoco opened late last year, just close enough to the Citadel outlet mall to make the short trip to Commerce an entire day out.
Barbacoa with consommé isn't the only dish here, but it might as well be. Regulars tend to order without even looking at the menu.
Unfortunately for late-risers, barbacoa serves the same restorative morning-after function as menudo or birria, and occasionally the lamb is sold out by midday. Even the Lebanese-style lamb served with pita and dilled yogurt sauce instead of salsa. Even the roasted lamb's head. Even the lamb soft tacos. Even the oozing, crisply fried tacos stuffed with baked lamb's brain. It must have been a big day for hangovers, because there was no lamb.
So we got a plate of those quesadillas filled with the typical Mexico City mixtures of cheese with squash blossoms, roasted peppers and the jet-black corn fungus called huitlacoche. We tried the grilled quail — everybody orders these in the Chula Vista store — whose crisp skin and vivid seasoning bear a remarkable resemblance to what you might find at Zankou. We got chicharron de queso, griddled wafers of toasted cheese curled into massive, guacamole-filled cigars, and "quesatacos," which are tacos made of that same melted cheese that are stuffed with more cheese and which are incredibly delicious if you manage to ignore the rivulets of grease that dribble down your arm when you eat them.
There were mixiotes, stews baked in parchment with fat slivers of agave leaf, from the plant used to make tequila and mezcal. (You don't eat the leaf, although after a few hours in that parchment it has come to resemble a fat slice of butternut squash.) The mixiotes made with rabbit, whose meat half-dissolves in the cooking process, are especially wonderful, like a mild, herbal chile sauce thickened with the rabbit itself. When the waiter opens the package at the table, it almost explodes with fragrance.
We had something called a plato Azteca, which involved strips of cactus grilled with onions and served on a big plate with squash blossoms and cheese — the waiter called it vegetarian fajitas, and once you lubricated it with the restaurant's angry green tomatillo salsa and wrapped it into a tortilla, it was easy to see why.
We were full. We were happy. We had managed to eat a satisfying meal at Aqui Es Texcoco without a single bite of lamb. And still — I daydreamed of barbacoa, beans and tortillas all the way home.
Aqui Es Texcoco
Lamb is the thing — and what wonderful lamb it is.
5850 S. Eastern Ave., Commerce, (323) 725-1429, aquiestexcoco.com
Antojitos, $2.25-$6.75; specials, $5.75-$12.50; barbacoa, $9.50 per 1/3-pound order; $38 per kilo.
Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Lot parking.
Lamb barbacoa, rabbit mixiotes, plato Azteca