Dan Bercu ventures to Pico Rivera in the search for an ancestral goat stew at Birrieria Jalisco.
In the Odyssey, Homer does not allow Odysseus to rest until he has travelled so far inland from the sea, that the natives cannot tell an oar from a willowing fan. On a similar quest for authentic ethnic food, I travel east from the beaches of Los Angeles to the sweltering interior. Only when one journeys beyond the reaches of fog, the fear of spice, and the satisfaction with mediocrity; can pure indigenous food be discovered.
Birriereria Jalisco is a perfect example of pure food, found far from “home.” Pico Rivera sits in the geographical center of Los Angeles. Birriereria Jalisco sits in front of a Db’s discount store and across from a high school. Concrete floors and dark wood tables, greet the diner; the obligatory wall, painted mustard yellow.
“Birria” is a Spanish word that connotes something of little value. It originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco where meats are cooked for long period, at low heat, in an ancestral stew of chili pepper adobo, garlic, cumin, bay leaves and thyme. Birrereria Jalisco is a shrine to Goat birria. Never tried goat before? Too gamey? A third world meat?
A greater percentage of humans ( 70 %) eat goat than any other meat on earth. The taste is as rich as any short rib. The animal requires very little space, will consume almost anything , and produces little waste. I like Impossible Burgers as much as Greta Thunburg. Yet if we really want to reduce animal produced methane, switching from cow to goat might be the swiftest conversion to help save the planet.
Anyone can make a $40 Wagyu steak taste great. But a large hunk of lean goat meat? At Birrereria Jalisco, skilled chefs use the alchemy of time, to turn gristle into gold. The menu is very focused and offers three main options: roasted goat shank, goat birria, and beef ribs.
The Chamorro, goat shank, was as vast as a tomahawk steak. The meat was “fall off the bone” tender, finished with nice roasted char. It tasted softer than lamb with a slight wild game type nose. When I grabbed the bone to eat like a Viking, it pulled away from the meat. and I came up empty. The Chamorro is served with a ceramic cup of its own broth, for drenching or dipping.
Next, a half order of “Roasted Kid” arrived with a bowl of consume . It was accompanied by heat- blasted tortillas “Hecho a Mano”- made by hand. These luscious ovals were soft and pliable, not dry like most corn tortillas The smaller cut of meat than the whole shank, involves more surface area so an even darker char develops.
It was as good as any brisket I’ve eaten in LA.
About to burst, “The beef Birria de Res” was placed on a plate in front of me. As with the goat, all the meats are stewed for hours, then finished in a blast furnace oven to seal in the flavor and singe the outer layer to a crunch. All the cuts were short ribs, providing lots of nooks and crannies for meat and marrow to hide within.
In the end, I washed it all down with a towering glass of “Tepache,” an aged pineapple juice sweetened with picilocino. Sweet, yet not over bearing, it possesses a Brazilian “Caipirinha” type of tropical taste. Satiated, I ambled past the Pokémon machine at the exit, and emerged from the darkness of the restaurant, into the bright light of the San Gabriel valley, I had two last things on my mind, Paul Newman and a way home…
6105 Rosemead Blvd C, Pico Rivera, CA 90660
Dan Bercu travels to remote places in search of unusual food and adventure.