Friday, April 2, 2010

Birrieria Apatzingan, Pacoima,CA-The Pleasures of Birria and Regional Bites from Apatzingan, Michoacan

Back in December I played a show in Apatzingan, Michoacan. This was brilliant trip that included my first visit to Morelia, and a stop in my current fling, Mexico City.

Apatzingan lies in the Tierra Caliente, hot lands, of Michoacan. And, it turns out that this little town has its own cuisine. The cooking of Michoacan is elusive, even in the the capital of Morelia, where much of the legendary cuisine is mostly found in homes of michoacanos. I know there are many people from Michoacan here in LA, but there isn't a single restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of Michoacan, except in.....Pacoima!

I believe I passed by this place about a year ago, made a mental note, but never followed up. Armed with my new appreciation of the delights of the Tierra Caliente, I took a closer look a couple weeks back......and....jackpot.

The restaurant is tucked back in the parking lot behind a convenience store called Super Stop. Its treasures are splashed in bright red letters against an orange sherbet exterior. Doesn't get anymore authentic than that!

Inside, a typical cafeteria style restaurant that seems to be a common decor in Pacoima.On the wall atop the arch of a walkway is a picture the chef, Martin, with his hands around a goat's neck. Martin has been here for two years, and was kept on recently when new owners took over a couple of month ago. His job in the morning is to fire up the birria. Josepha is around in the afternoons to make the various Apatzingan dishes and prepare fresh tortillas for the birria.

I remember scanning the taqueria menu signs driving into Apatzingan and seeing
chavindecas in every restaurant. What the hell are chavindecas? How come I never heard of 'em?

I had gone to a taqueria in the town center of Apatzingan to look for these chavindecas, when I discovered their rather uninvolved construction. It's just two tortillas with melted cheese and carne asada sandwiched in between.But don't pass this off as a mere quesadilla. This is the comforting flavor of toasty corn-scented tortillas with the lubricious pairing of melted cheese and carne asada.

The pure corn tamales of Michoacan, uchepos, make their debut here in LA. They are served with crema mexicana, and a tomatillo sauce. These are only offered on the weekends, but you'd better get up early or call in advance. Forget about the other corn tamale hypes in town, this is the real deal. They are brought to the restaurant from San Jose, CA where a master tamalera from Michoacan makes them.

They have pork ribs in a tomatillo sauce, but get this in the morisqueta, a sort of Mexican rice bowl with white rice, beans, and a topping of supple pork ribs in a tangy salsa. This is another hearty specialty of Apatzingan. This is a Friday lunch date kinda treat.

Aporreadillo is another dish you will not likely find around these parts. Eggs are cooked in a mild spiced sauce with cecina, Mexican beef jerky, famous in Michoacan. I had this on my Morelia run and am relieved to learn I could have this plate just a short drive from home.

Enchiladas of chicken or cecina are done Apatzingan style. This is similar, or rather identical to the famous pollo de la plaza(plaza chicken) in Morelia.

A guajillo chile sauce is used to fry chicken and potatoes. This same enchilada sauce is applied to corn tortillas stuffed with cotija cheese and fried into what resemble tacos.

The enchiladas are covered with lettuce, tomato, and onion.

These are a deconstructed enchilada as compared to the usual type, or perhaps the folks from Apatzingan would call our local version of the chicken enchilada a "constructed" enchilada.

Either way, this is one of the few regional enchiladas you can enjoy here in Los Angeles, a delicious dish, and something special that can expand your antojito horizions.

But don't let all this exotic regional gastronomy distract you too much, this is a birrieria after all. There's is always a big pot simmering, and the aromas of goat and spice permeate the restaurant.

This is a birria en caldo, a birria soup. This is reason alone to come to Birrieria Apatzingan. The broth is slurp 'til the last drop good, the kind of soup that makes you cringe the each time a dot of the juice falls onto the table negotiating the journey from bowl to mouth. The best way is to close the distance, eating directly above the scented aromas floating around the rim of the bowl.

Cumin is a principal spice in birria, but here you get cinnamon, garlic, cloves, laurel leaves,and sweet peppers. There is luscious balance of spicing, dried chiles, oily goat stock, and succulent meat.

This is the baby of chef Martin from Apatzingan, a personal recipe that can call itself among the top birrias in town. It's only peer at this time is Flor del Rio in Boyle Heights, but if you live in the Valley, Flor del Rio might as well be as far as driving all the way to Zacatecas.

Birrieria Apatzingan
10040 Laurel Canyon Bl
Pacoima, CA 91331


Das Ubergeek said...

The birria was absolutely insane. I'm going to be sore tempted to drive up there when working in Burbank just for that birria.

I liked the chavindeca, good tortillas, but it's a side order if you're already there, not a reason to drive up.

Food GPS said...

Nice write-up. You really capture the flavors and aromas of Birrieria Apatzingan. Looking forward to returning.

streetgourmetla said...

Dasubergeek-Next time you're up be sure to get the aporriadillo too, know that you've been initiated.

Foodgps-Thanks, yes there are a few decent plates you need to try as well, the aporriadillo and the uchepos.

Angel said...

Great article. I am definitely going to stop in there. I havent had aporreadillo since my next door neighbor's suegra came to visit.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Street Gourmet LA,

Awesome! :) Thanks for the post and recommendation. I can't wait to try the Birria and other Apatzingan specialties. :)

streetgourmetla said...

Hey Angel, thanks, and it's great to hear from someone who has prior knowledge of these bites.

Exilekiss-This has you written all over it.

Gustavo Arellano said...

Love your finds as always, but you're wrong about the lack of Michoacán restaurants in Southern California. Santa Ana is the epicenter of the region's expats, and thus has more than a few. I reviewed Las Brisas de Aptazingan (where they make the huchepos daily) a couple of years back and even reviewed it again for Good Food. And El Chile Picante has chavilecas as well as those folded-up enchiladas. There are a couple of other places I wouldn't recommend, and—of course—carnitas places dot the land like donut shops.

streetgourmetla said...

Gustavo Arellano-Yeah, I think I'd seen the Brisas de Apatzingan piece before and I know Dave recently reminded me of the place. In LA there really isn't much, I wouldn't count the carnitas places, none of which follow tradition. Best ones around are Cinco Puntos, they use the copper pots, and Metro Balderas, DF style.

Well, a trip down to the OC is in order to check these out.So, you have TWO places, doesn't quick represent the massive amounts of michoacanos, though. How is Las Brisas? Better be good if I'm going all the way down there!

Gustavo Arellano said...

Again: Santa Ana is Michoacán central. Every other carnitas is named Uruapán or Sahuayo, and are packed—all those michoacanas can't be wrong, can they? And, like I also said, there are other Michoacán-style restaurants, but I wouldn't recommend them as they're not really good. But, combining those with the carnitas place, there's at least a dozen in Santa Ana alone, and that's much more representation than for, say, Zacatecas...

streetgourmetla said...

Gustavo-Santa Ana is michoacano central, but I don't believe carnitas artisans are moving to the US, neither are professional taqueros.I'm less concerned with what the name of a place is or the people that are lined up, than I am with the food. I've yet to have carnitas in the US like I've had in Morelia,Uruapan, or Mexico City.Even Tijuana has some pretty good stuff, like Carnitas Quiroga.

Hermano, bad restaurants are packed all over East Los Angeles with Paisanos eating Hollenbecks,King Tacos, etc.

3rd generation Mexican food isn't the same.But, always willing to try. What is your top carnitas restaurant in the OC? I'm up for the OC challenge. We'll get Dave, a few others and DO this.

mattatouille said...

Great find Bill. Definitely will try this place out.

Also interesting to hear the banter regarding the degradation of (some elements of) Mexican cooking because of the passing of generations. I hope Korean food doesn't suffer that fate in L.A. But maybe the all you can eat joints really aren't helping.

Eddie Lin said...


Bravo for this birria post! You've captured it brilliantly.

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks Eddie! Know, come over here and let's tear up some goat!

Anonymous said...

Where can I find some good carnitas in Pacoima/San Fernando area? From time to time we just want to buy some to make tortas at home and the only ones I know of are at Vallarta. Their quality keeps getting worse. PLEASE HELP!

Anonymous said...

Looks can be deceiving!!! I live in Burbank and I was looking for a good birria Mexican restaurant. I saw your article so I decided to try out these place. When I got there and saw the outside I said "OMG!" is not the nicest place from the outside but is heaven food on the inside. I order the big birria plate and it was delicious!!! The hand made tortillas mmmmmm.... I'm definitely going back again.

maria aleman said...

i just wanted to say that the resturant birrieria has a perfect menu......And just want to say hi to my aunt ARACELI INFANTE,my uncle MARTIN CRUZ,and also my cousin BASILIO INFANTE......I REALLY LOVE ALL MY FAMILY.......P.S MARIA ALEMAN

streetgourmetla said...

Hello Maria-Your family is doing a great job, and making excellent Mexican food. Congratulations!!

Anonymous said...

Hello,your article is so perfect,but I think you are missing some information;what about Birrieria Rosamaria? What about it? That is the ORIGINAL PLACE,they had gotten all the menu they have right now in their place. 'The chef Martin' comes from there too. Birrieria Rosamaria has been there for so many years, and the Birrieria your talking about is not the only one who got the Birrieria Rosemaria's menu,some another employees, who used to work there,open their own place whit the same menu around Pacoima.#copiaspiratas. He dicho.

streetgourmetla said...

Hello anonymous-Yes, it's quite common for restaurants to copy menus, or serve similar menus.I find it obnoxious and frustrating as a person looking for new menu items.

I went to Rosamaria's and had such high expectations for it, I love the building. After several attempts--they close rather early--I finally ordered their birria and a chavindeca. The birria wasn't nearly as good as Apatzingan, nor was the chavindeca. The birria wasn't bad, just very dull. I didn't even write about Rosamaria's because I don't find it to be a destination.

I'm ultimately interested in the BEST Mexican. Thanks for sharing some intel.

jjreamer said...

Thats my daddy:D

jjreamer said...

That's my daddy!..making the Birria !<3

Anonymous said...

The only problem I have with this is that lettuce is never used to topped enchiladas in michoacan. Cabagge is always used to top enchiladas and sopes in Tierra caliente because it's more abundant and with stands the heat from food more.

streetgourmetla said...

Hello anonymous-Ya know, the last time I had lettuce on enchiladas michoacanas was in Apatzingan, Michoacan. Actually, it's no so uncommon. It's also not much of a stretch to substitute lettuce for cabbage.