By: Samantha Aguilar
One of the most traditional Mexican dishes has managed to gain popularity across social media platforms over the past few years.
The Mexican dish, birria, is taking over, becoming one of the latest food trends of 2021. Like many, I became obsessed with birria, specifically birria tacos. I vowed to find the best birria tacos in Orange County. After extensive research, Yelp reviews and Instagram polls, I narrowed the list to five Orange County favorites.
What is Birria?
Birria is a hearty traditional Mexican stew that originated from Cocula, Jalisco. The dish contains a blend of many spices, including but not limited to a variation of chile guajillo, chile ancho, bay leaves, garlic, cumin and cider vinegar. The meat, traditionally goat, can be substituted with lamb and beef, is simmered to infuse the spices and thoroughly tenderize it. Additionally, the stew is served with onion, cilantro and lime.
What are Birria Tacos?
Like any traditional taco, the meat is wrapped in a tortilla and topped with the restaurant’s unique style of salsas, ranging from red to green, cilantro, onion and a side of radishes. However, for birria tacos, the consomé is crucial in determining its success. Not only is the taco served with a side of consomé for dipping, but the tortilla is also dipped in the consomé giving it a nice flavorful coat before being thrown on a frying pan, creating a crunchy outer shell.
I visited the top five recommended and rated restaurants and ranked them from my favorite to least favorite. Here’s the verdict:
Birrieria Guadalajara’s distinctive Guadalajaren taste is different from the traditional Jalisciense flavor. A family recipe passed down from generation to generation, their restaurant serves more than just the classic birria plate and taco. You can also find tortas, burritos and more modern and popular dishes, like the quesabirria–– a quesadilla with birria meat.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t stopped thinking about the rich and intense flavor I experienced when trying these tacos. The meat was very tender. Every bite, I could taste so many spices, specifically cardamom and cumin. The consomé had a bit of a sweet and tangy taste to it, which I loved, and it was thick and red, perfect for dipping. The tortilla also had a lovely crunch, which I always look for in a birria taco. This was truly a 10 out of 10 experience. You have to try this place if you’re in Orange County.
Teddy’s Red Tacos is a very close second to Birrieria Guadalajara. I’ve been following their Instagram page for over a year now, and when I found out they were opening their eighth location in Anaheim, I was over the moon.
With 176,000 followers on Instagram, the owners agree that the social media platform has contributed to the recent popularity of birria and the restaurant’s growth. “We feel like it’s a two-way communication,” said Y.L, manager of the Anaheim location. “They’re close to us, and we’re close to them.”
As expected, their birria was delicious. The meat was tender and fresh; every bite of beef was packed with so much flavor and perfectly seasoned, as was the consomé. The tortilla was nice and crispy, and the salsas they included on the side lifted all the flavors.
The consomé was terrific. Unlike Birrieria Guadalajara, the consomé was slightly bitter and saltier, but in an enjoyable way. “The recipe is perfected by Teddy. He chose to use beef and add a few minor twists,” Y.L. said.
Founder Teddy Vasquez brought the recipe over from Tijuana, Mexico, and added his secret ingredient to perfect the birria. One distinguishing factor that Vasquez added is the spiced-up red tortilla, hence Teddy’s Red Tacos. Over time, their menu also expanded to include more birria dishes, including the more popular quesabirria and mulita.
With the continuous growth of birria around the country, Y.L. says the hype will only grow with it, “because it’s so authentic and so delicious, this trend is here to stay.”
El Patron was a strong candidate. Although I don’t think the flavor factor was as impactful as Birrieria Guadalajara or Teddy’s Red Tacos, El Patron still had a nice blend of flavors. The crunch of this taco was better than any other on the list, and that’s a big deal for me.
Another thing that I love more than I should is the red grease stains around the parchment paper. The minute I opened the box and saw that, I knew the shell would be crunchy and flavorful. Although the meat on its own didn’t have the strong flavor of spices that I typically look for in birria, the consomé helped add flavor to the taco. The consomé was dark and thick and fell more on the savory-salty side of the spectrum. All in all, this was a solid taco.
Although the flavor factor wasn’t as strong for Palapas, the quality of the products came through.
Juan Del Rio, the owner of Palapas Tacos, describes his style as a Michoacan and Zacatecas mix, although his mother-in-law, from Guerrero, has a hand in making the recipe.
When the birria came out of the kitchen and onto my table, it was steaming. By far the most tender meat of the five restaurants. It felt like it had just come off the stove. Del Rio says that this is thanks to the slow and low cooking process that starts daily from 10 p.m. and finishes the following day at 7 a.m.
“It’s a really important part of the process, I’ve seen so many locations cook it in 2-3 hours,” Del Rio said. “It changes the flavor a lot.”
I noticed during the tasting process that the Michoacan recipes tend to have a thinner consomé consistency. Personally, this wasn’t my favorite consomé, but once I added their homemade salsa to the mix, the flavor boosted significantly.
“We make the recipe from scratch, and we bring all ingredients from Mexico- actually, the chiles to make it, we bring it from Zacatecas,” Del Rio said.
Beyond their birria tacos, Del Rio says that they’ve had great success with their birria ramen, even partnering up with Tapatio, a Mexican hot sauce brand, to purchase their ramen mix. Del Rio says that they’ll continue evolving their birria and blending foods to create more unique dishes with the fast-changing trends.
“Birria can be eaten as its own platter, in a taco, you can now eat it in ramen. There’s a lot of things you can do; you can do quesadillas, you can do burritos, you never get tired of it,” Del Rio said.
La Super Birria claims to have the best birria tacos in Orange County, so I came in with very high expectations.
This birria had a very significant taste — different from the other locations.
“The Super Birria is a perfect combination of Jalisco style, Michoacan style and Orange County style. It is a crossover of three cultures,” said Edgar Navarrete, the owner.
I learned that the origin of each recipe could make a drastic change in not only taste but also the consistency and color of the consomé. “Super Birria is not a copied style. We bring flavor from many sides,” Navarrete said.
Many factors can contribute to this, including the ingredients, where the product is produced, where it originates and the style.
The meat was very tender and fresh, but the consomé felt more thinned down. Additionally, the meat on its own didn’t have as much of a punch of flavor as Guadalajara and Teddy’s, but adding salsa to the consomé elevated the flavor.
Although not the flavor I’m used to, the birrieria follows trends that keep people coming back, infusing new foods and flavors, like birria ramen, their birria tower and the quesabirria.
“We have more than 20 dishes that are not on the menu now but we are going to keep taking them out temporarily, in limited editions,” Navarrete said.