If you ever find yourself on the food corner of Instagram, it won’t take long to come across what seems to be the latest food trend in the U.S. — birria. This Mexican stew from Jalisco has exploded in popularity over the past year, spreading from the west coast as a popular hangover cure to now finding its way onto menus all over the country.
It starts with the meat, traditionally sheep, goat, or as Jorge Ramirez of Taco Bout It makes it, beef. The lean piece of meat is cooked for hours in its own juices until a shreddy, soft and tender consistency is reached. Although Ramirez only added it to the menu three months ago, birria is a traditional Mexican dish that has been made for decades as a popular street food and made its way to the U.S. by way of Los Angeles. In 2018, Instagram added to its popularity through the young Mexican and broader Latino audience and the trend grew from there.
“One day I tried it in Queens, and I didn’t really like it,” Ramirez said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I can make this better.’ I started making it and a lot of people order it now.”
From the beef stew birria, Ramirez makes a birria taco, a dish not for the faint of heart. A corn tortilla is dipped into the consomé, the saucy juice and rendered-fat mixture pulled from the stew. Then it’s onto the plancha where oaxaca cheese, onions and cilantro are added and lots of shredded birria right out of the pot. It’s folded in half and served in threes with lime wedges, quartered radishes and a big cup of consomé for extra dipping.
The dish is not a portable one. Once I picked up the first taco and dunked it into the consomé, the juices ran all the way down to my hand. But the moment I took a bite, it didn’t matter. The beef was tender and heartwarming, a kind of comfort only found in comfort foods. The corn tortilla was speckled with char and bits of beef from the consomé. The cheese was melty and stretchy. A squeeze of lime cut through all the big flavors and added a delicious balance.
I kept going in, dunk after dunk, for more consomé. I could’ve drank the liquid straight out of the cup. Eventually, Ramirez brought me a spoon so after I had finished my tacos (in what I can only assume was record time), I could slurp down the rest. In between messy bites, I sipped on a Mexican coke, which somehow always tastes better than its American counterpart.
The selection of birria options at Taco Bout It is extensive. Other than the classic birria tacos, there’s Pambazo birria (Mexican stuffed bread), birria soup, quesabirria and cemita de birria (sandwich).
After I had cleaned off my plate, Ramirez asked, “Do you want another one?” My stomach said no, but my mouth said yes. I laughed. “No, I’m good,” I said. But I certainly will be back for more.
Taco Bout It is tucked away just off of Main Street behind Haiku Sushi at 40b E Main St, Riverhead. They are cash only and open everyday but Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.