What we’re into: Zacatecan-style birria de res in Hawthorne
As Tijuana-style birria de res has its cultural moment, from the crimson-tinted namesake wonders at Teddy’s Red Tacos to glimmering consommé pools offered by Birrieria Gonzalez and so many more, those of us with roots in the Mexican state of Zacatecas can’t help but to do a Jan Brady and scream “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”
Food media and Instagrammers and Mexican Americans alike are proclaiming birria de res — the beef version of the famous goat stew — as L.A.’s latest Mexican-food trend. But no es nothing new to the hundreds of thousands of zacatecanos in Los Angeles and Orange counties, especially those from the municipios of Jerez and Tepetongo, who’ve feasted on the meal for decades.
While birria de res estilo Tijuana comes mostly in the form of tacos and a cup of steaming broth, zacatecanos enjoy it on a plate as a proper meal. I’ve gorged on it since I was a child — at family get-togethers in Anaheim, at quinceañeras and weddings held at the Armenian Center in Montebello, Basque handball clubs in La Puente, and countless union and church halls in between.
Zacatecas-style birria de res is our version of lechón — a feast ultimately not that elaborate to prepare yet nevertheless reserved for special occasions. That’s why it rarely appeared in restaurants, save for the burgeoning Burritos La Palma empire — but all the rightful social-media attention it received over the past couple of years got subsumed by the current Tijuana wave.
The dish’s relative rarity is a shame — for you. Me? Given my massive extended family, I can eat it at least twice a month, and that doesn’t even require going to a restaurant.
You’ll probably never get an invitation to try my Tia Paulita’s birria de res, but a close approximation is at Zacatecas Restaurant in Hawthorne. It’s an off-menu specialty, reserved for the compas who know better than to order the so-so Cal-Mex platters that draw in the city’s tech bros and make up the super-majority of the tiny spot’s cooking.
Here is the birria de res of my life: juicy but slightly crisped, decorated only with diced, raw white onion, and sluiced in a furious salsa de guajillo. It’s stringy and savory and spicy and delicious, as important a cultural marker of Southern California’s immigrant culinary heritage as Cambodian doughnut shops and the Dutch dairy farms of Chino.
Zacatecas Restaurant, 13737 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne, (310) 679-5161; zacatecasrestaurant.com. Open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
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