Growing up in a small town that mainly consists of two types of people, White and White Trash, dining on any exotic or unusual meats wasn’t really an option. Our proteins were pretty much limited to chickens, cows and pigs. So, as I’ve broken out of my culinary mold, I make it a point to try as many animals as possible.
With that said, there are two things I’ve neglected here in Chicago on my Taco Tour: Birrierias and the Pilsen neighborhood. So, why not kill two birds with one stone?
I’ve always thought that birrieiras were Mexican joints that specialize in goat. And while I was wrong, I was barking up the right arbol…
Birrierias are Mexican joints that specialize in birra, or stewed meats. Traditionally, it’s been made with goat meat…BUT, it doesn’t necessarily have to be goat. It can be made with cow or lamb as well. Boy, was my face red when I found out.
While searching for the meaning on the Interwebs, I came across several other contextual meanings of the word which I found humorous. Some of them include, but are not limited to: a useless object, trash, rotten, beer and worthless (Spanish); and an ale house (Italian). You put all those together and you get The Two Way (ooooooohhhhh). Sorry. Logan Square joke.
My point is, I need to learn more about this stuff. So, I flew in two of my friends from California, called my amiga Lisa, and headed down to Pilsen. I’ve read a lot about Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan while researching the area. So, I insisted we try it….half against the will of Lisa, who is half Mexican, and lives half a mile from the restaurant.
Sooooo, how is it?
It’s pretty decent, but my taco diva intuitions tell me they can be so much more with just a few tweaks.
I tried two types of birria: the res (cow) and the chivo (goat). Let me start by saying they are both very nicely stewed meats. They obviously take their time preparing the carne. It reminds me of a nice, cozy, tender comfort meal. BUT, I wish they would bring some flavor and spice to the party. Both meats, which are eerily similar in every way, could use a little seasoning and some kick. The onions and cilantro add a bit of crunch and freshness, but the texture and flavorlessness of the meat pretty much destroy that immediately.
I also tried the lengua. Lengua is another meat that is usually slow cooked and known for it’s tender, pot roast-like texture. To find out what I think about it, reread the previous paragraph and insert the word lengua where I talk about the birrias.
All of the tacos are served rolled up in a thin wax paper. As you open the taco, you can’t help making a mess. The juices and broth from the stewed meats runs all over. So, don’t stop by here on the way to your next Quinceanera.
There are two tacos I didn’t try. One is the cabeza, or head meat. They advertise it as a “tender meat”. I’m pretty sure I’d have the same feelings about this one as the three I tried. The last is higado, which is goat liver. Eh. Maybe next time.
Don’t worry, though. I haven’t given up on birrierias….or Pilsen.
I’ll be boch…
- Location: 1322 W 18th St., Chicago, IL (Pilsen)
- Tourists: Josh, Josh, Chanel, Lisa, Lilah, Juliet
- Tacos sampled: birria de res, birria de chivo, lengua (also have cabeza, and higado)
- Toppings: onions and cilantro; lime
- Salsa: roja y verde
- Extras: chips
- Tortillas: corn
- Atmosphere: small, stewed, dirty, authentico, messy
- Price: $2.00-$2.50/taco
- OVERALL RATING: 6.5