Birria is not the kind of dish that finds itself on every Tomás, Ricardo y Enrique Mexican menu in town — despite our fair city playing host to numerous fine establishments from Jalisco and Michoacan, the savory stew’s most frequently cited birthplace. So, yes, you’ll have to seek it out. Vale la pena— it’s worth the effort.
But, as usual, there’s no one rendition every cook agrees on. The meat base can be either beef, lamb, or goat — and maybe even pork, though I haven’t come across it. Ancho chile is a common component, but cascabel, guajillo, morita, mulato and more are cited. Bay leaves are almost universal, as is dried oregano. Sometimes you’ll find orange or vinegar, the occasional knob of ginger might appear while chopped onion, cilantro and lime are normally served alongside.
As they are at Cascabel Mexican Patio in Southtown — along with their serious corn tortillas. Cascabel’s kitchen does its “caldo de chivo” birria with shredded goat. No pesky bones. The rusty-hued broth is infused with “special cascabel sauce”; we’re assuming cascabel chile in this case, maybe bolstered by a few pods of guajillo and made fragrant by bay. (The same mix, in less liquid form, also adorns enchiladas.) It’s a beautiful thing to behold, not especially goaty at all, and it’s perfect as the weather begins to flirt with falling temperatures. Cascabel’s pozole is effectively the same soup with a few different accessories.
Another version I’ve enjoyed is produced by Guajillo’s at 410 and Blanco. Here, the carne in question is lamb in a “rich mulato broth”. It’s a tad deeper in tone than Cascabel’s goat, but just as rewarding. The Jalisco-style birria at Picante Grill opposite the Witte is also lamb, though here the meat is wrapped first in a banana leaf, and the chile of choice is ancho. Try ‘em all.
And if you venture to sample the beef version, “a Jalisco tradition,” at Wapo Taco on 410 and Babcock, a place I have yet to investigate, please let me know. Might as well round out all the possibilities.