Top Three Dim Sum Picks in L.A. - Originally posted on KCET. See the full piece here. I get asked where the best place to get dim sum is a lot. Unlike more obscure categories of Chinese foo...
Monday, February 1, 2010
Taco Task Force:The Best Birria de Chivo in Los Angeles,America's Goat Central.
Assignment number two for the Taco Task Force began on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in East LA. A day that would take us again to out-of-the-ordinary pockets of the city, one of the best things about these adventures. I love getting to know LA better, neighborhood by neighborhood with good company in tow.This run proved to be a day of good food all around.This time we had all team members present:Javier, Cathy, Josh, Matt, and myself.Cathy's fiancee Vern, the astronomer, was with us once again for this taco madness.
For this tase adventure it would be birria de chivo(goat birria), the specialty of the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, and the central states of Mexico. The goat is typically roasted in a pit or an oven on a rack, with the drippings forming a base for the consome(broth). The dish is served either dry, doused with the consome, or with the side of consome.In Mexico it is referred to as birria tatemada(roasted). It can be stewed as well, but the roasted goat is a more intense experience. There's nothing like walking into a bunch of birrierias like the famed Nueve Esquinas(9 corners) in Guadalajara, or outside the mercados in Zacatecas completed surrounded by the seductive aromas of slow roasted goat and cumin.
The dining set up is familiar and accessible to all: warm hand-made corn tortillas, diced onions, fresh cilantro,and a fine salsa or two.Birria, which translates to a mess, is a breakfast food in Mexico, and a might be the only reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning after drinking too much on Friday night.
Our newly streamlined criteria consisted of the quality of principal ingredient, flavor, condiment, and expertise in cooking.
Scoring Key:Josh(Jo), Javier(Ja), Matt(M), Cathy and fer fiancee Vern, the civilian consultant for the TTF(VN),and myself(B).
Our first stop of the day, and number 5 on our TOP 5, Birrieria Chalio.
Birrieria Chalio has 22 years in the business and gets its tradition from the state of Zacatecas. This place is an East LOS classic.
This is still not a bad place to chase the "hair of the dog" for the locals, just not worthy of a special trip.Despite placing 5th on our best five they do a decent job here.
The meat had strong flavor although some of the rib and leg that was served had a slight dryness.The consome was bland, overall, there was a lack of that cumin presence one looks for in this dish. When combined with the mousepad thick East LA style corn tortilla, it was a nice goat birria taco, and the perfect start to this crawl.
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 3.5, M 3 AVERAGE 3.5/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3 AVERAGE 3.4/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 3, B 3, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.3/5
Cooking:Jo 3.5, B 3, Ja 4, CV 3, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.4/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 3.4/5 (5th place)
3580 E. 1st ST.
Our second stop in EastLA, and number 7 on the Birriathon, Birrieria Guadalajara.
Birrieria Guadalajara has been purchased sometime ago by some folks from El Salvador, and, well, I should have gone here first rather than drag the TTFers and literally TAKEN one for the team.
The condiments were not traditional,purple onions were a foreshadowing of things to come, and this place scored very low in all facets of the birria.....criteria.Sorry guys, send the Jaliscan birria preservation society here, and fast.
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 1, B 1.5, Ja 1, CV 1.5, M 1.5 AVERAGE 1.3/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 2, B 1, Ja 1.5, CV 0.5, M 1.5 AVERAGE 1.3/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 1, B 1, Ja 1, CV 1, M 1 AVERAGE 1/5
Cooking:Jo 0.5, B 1.5, Ja 1, CV 0.5, M 2 AVERAGE 1.1/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 1.175/5
1128 South Atlantic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90022-4007
The big surprise of our birria trek, and number 1 in our top five, Birrieria Tepeque.
After the Birrieria Guadalajara I was a little concerned about the fact that I hadn't been to Birrieria Tepeque. The thought of menacing glares from Cathy and Josh put my sweat glands on DEFCON 3.
As soon as I walked in to this place, the haunting aromas of goat, and that familiar sense that we were in the right place set in, and the added pleasure learning we had another regional player in the day's range of birrierias.
Owner, Gerardo Gutierrez, has been in the business for 15 years, but this is a relatively new location for them. Although not exclusively a birrieria, their dedication and cooking are stellar. The restaurant represents the cooking style of Apatzingan, Michoacan, and the place is named after the city of Tepalcatepec, a city that lies just across the border from southern Jalisco. Their regular menu appears to be the usual plates and appetizers, but the fact that they're from Morelia warrants further investigation.I'm coming back soon to check out this find.
The birria was finished in a pot which gives it a tender, juiciness that could be an unfair advantage, but they are going to be doing a roasted birria, too.
The consome was balanced and packed with flavor. All natural and all good.The special salsa of pure dried chiles and oil elicited ooos and ahhhs all 'round our table.Get some.
The mixed meats were expertly cooked, lovely goat flavors slowly triggering the pleasure sensors. "We use a younger goat than the other places", said the waitress. Not a kid, but perhaps a teenager?
But the best taste of the day went to their ribs, a must for your birria selection here at Tepeque.This was a goat taste, quality, and polish that retained an edge over all the other birrierias that day, and through the following week when I finished out my last stop. I'm thinking about this place right now, luscious, tender, juicy birria from Michoacan!It was so good we thought about just calling it a day, but, the TTF marched on......
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 4.5, B 4.5, Ja 4, CV 5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.5/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 4.5, B 4, Ja 4, CV 4, M 4 AVERAGE 4.1/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 4, B 4, Ja 4, CV 5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.3/5
Cooking:Jo 4.5, B 5, Ja 4, CV 5, M 5 AVERAGE 4.7/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 4.4/5(1st Place)
3249 East Gage Avenue
Huntington Park, CA 90255-5441
It was off to Huntington Park for more goat calories for stop number 4 of the day, and the 4th best birria in LA,Birrieria Tlaquepaque.
Birrieria Tlaquepaque has been on my list of solid places for some birria, and now we had our first true Jaliscan entry into the competition.
A little confusion led us to the original location, the newer and bigger restaurant lies on the other side of the street, the pilot operation now serves as a take out.
I had intended on going to the bigger location but the team had already ordered. The take-out uses packaged tortillas, so I recommend going to the sit down Tlaquepaque for the hand made tortillas.
Not only that the unaccommodating ladies at the take-out wouldn't give us little plates to share the single order, but the TTF is fair and impartial to such sabotage. We didn't hold it against them, nor did we ding 'em for the store bought tortillas, they assured us that home made corn tortillas were just across the street.
The consome is lap-up-like-a-hungry-dog delicious. Once again, leg and rib were in the bowl, great flavor and a comforting broth, make this a great place to get your birria fix.
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 3, B 3.5, Ja 3.5, CV 4, M 5 AVERAGE 3.8/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 3.5, CV 3, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.4/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 4, M 4.5 AVERAGE 3.9/5
Cooking:Jo 2.5, B 3, Ja 3, CV 4.5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 3.5/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 3.65/5(4th Place)
1753 East Florence Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90001-2523
A quick trip up the 110 to the 5th meal of the day and 3rd place finisher, the highly esteemed El Parian.
Well, the pressure was mounting as we approached the place that Jonathan Gold had called the single best Mexican dish in LA.
El Parian is universally loved and revered, rightfully so. It's been around for 46 years and has consistently served up plates and bowls of birria satisfaction year after year.Another great birrieria from the great cooking state of Jalisco.
The light and savory consome stood out apart from it's simple serving vessel and the gritty surroundings. Despite the wear on the walls of this place, there seems to be a beauty about El Parian that you can't quite put your finger on.This thought popped into my head as we waited for our birria. Great thing about birria is thta it's a fast slow food, cooking all day, and when you arrive it plops on your table within a short time.
The birria surtida(mixed)has tremendous flavor, and when paired with the lightness of the consome, goat sings freely in the warmth and comfort of delicious homemade tortillas.El Parian is still a class act and I believe will always remain a foodie favorite.
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 3.5, B 3.5, Ja 4, CV 4, M 4 AVERAGE 3.8/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 4.5, B 4, Ja 4.5, CV 3.5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.2/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 4, B 4, Ja 4, CV 4, M 4 AVERAGE 4/5
Cooking:Jo 3.5, B 4, Ja 4, CV 4.5, M 4 AVERAGE 4/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 4/5(3rd Place)
1528 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015-2408
With Flor del Rio being closed, we hit our final stop of the day and 6th place overall, Birrieria Jalisco.
The tireless TTF arrived to a fairly busy birrieria at this time of the day, it was already dark, not exactly birria prime time. This place has been around for about 30 years, founded by Jaliscans Luz and Ricardo Gonzalez.
The birria was salty, tortillas were store bought, and in general, this place is just dialing it in. Dry birria was somewhat saved by the consome on a textural level, but the consome brought on simple, salty flavors. This place was a let down, and the last stop would have to wait.
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 3, B 3, Ja 3, CV 4, M 3 AVERAGE 3.2/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 2.5, B 2.5, Ja 2, CV 3.5, M 2.5 AVERAGE 2.6/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 3, B 3, Ja 3.5, CV 3.5, M 2.5 AVERAGE 3.1/5
Cooking:Jo 3, B 3, Ja 3.5, CV 3.5, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.3/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 3.05/5
1845 East 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033-3410
After a week's vacation from birria, with newly fine tuned birria meters, I met up with TTFer Matt Kang at Birrieria Flor del Rio, the 2nd best birria in Los angeles.
This place recently came to our attention through in the LA Weekly, harpooned by the great goat hunter, Jonathan Gold.
This place is the kind of place that....well...I devote a fair amount of my time looking for.A specialist, a restaurant representing a very specific pueblo,in this instance, Nochistlan de Mejia, Zacatecas. It lies just north of the Highlands of Jalisco, on the Zacatecas side of the border.
If you want to enjoy exceptional birria in an ambiance straight out of the magical colonial cities of Zacatecas, or Fresnillo, this is the place.
Without the haste of multiple stops, Matt and I leisurely enjoyed a restaurant that has been hauntingly described by Jonathan Gold.
Still slightly vexed that Javier or myself hadn't found this place, I think the day I first read the post I sent Javier an angry text, "Que paso guey? Vives en East LA o no?" I must have driven by this place a million times actively looking for places like Flor del Rio, and Javier LIVES in East LA.It feels sort of like losing your keys for several hours in your own pocket while a very hot first date glares at you while talking shit about you to her girlfriends on her cell phone.
Well, back to the meal. As timeless ritual invites you to dine-fresh cut limes, white onions,a tailored salsa, and cilantro adorn an unrefined table.
The birria is sublime here,everything you hope birria could be. You can have it dry(without consome), or wet.There is nothing to do here but enjoy birria, drink some beers, and carve away at the day with conversation. The only factor separating Tepeque from Flor was the excellent goat used at Tepeque. Otherwise, Flor del Rio is on the same plane, and I might even find myself here more often than any other birrieria in town.
Flor del Rio
Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 4.5, B 4.5, Ja 3.5, CV 4.5, M 4 AVERAGE 4.2/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 4, B 4, Ja 3, CV 3.5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 3.8/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 4.5, B 4, Ja 3.5, CV 4.5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.2/5
Cooking:Jo 4.5, B 4.5, Ja 4, CV 4.5, M 4.5 AVERAGE 4.4/5
OVERALL TACO SCORE: 4.15/5(2nd Place)
3201 East 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90063-3104
The Taco Task Force Top Five Birrierias in Los Angeles
1. Birrieria Tepeque
2. Birrieria Flor del Rio
3. El Parian
4. Birrieria Tlaquepaque
5. Birrieria El Chalio
There were several things I learned about this outing. LA is a birria town. We have so many other places that we couldn't include, and also had even excluded a few due to prior experiences. Both Josh and I had separately gone to Birrieria La Barca, me with Ex-Chowhounder and Mexican food expert, Eat Nopal, and all three of us concurred that La Barca is no longer a destination for birria.I might even place it below Birrieria Jalisco.
Also, the carne asada from El Parian is very good, but not the equivalent of the great northern Mexican carne asada traditions.The style of their taco is an East LA taco, but the good news is that we can call it our own, well......at least you native Angelinos can.The search for Mexican carne asada continues.
I can't seem to ever beat Josh to the next location.
Despite a million locos(bloggers, journalists, and foodies) running around LA with cameras, Jonathan Gold can still deliver some vicious putazos(like a Mexican can of whoop ass).
If you decide to do your own birria crawl, you're in for some good food.
OK, taqueros, beware, the TTF is coming to your stands, trucks, and carts.Aguas!