Birria, meat stewed in an aromatic spice broth, is Mexican food at its most soulful. It’s name (like the French-Canadian poutine) is a slang term for a mess. It is a well-known hangover cure all across Mexico. Different regions have different versions. In Tijuana birria de res, the beef version, is king. Beef birria is less moist, flavorful, stringy and gamey than thebetter-known goat versions found in the state of Jalisco. Birria taco vendors open early and sell out when the stew is through. Make sure to arrive early. These tacos make a warming breakfast, and they taste much better than disappointment.
Tacos Martin, one of several popular birria de res vendors around Tijuana, offers meat that is extra tender and stew with a well-balanced spice profile. Tacos are done in the classic Tijuana style, with fresh tortillas dipped in the neon orange oil from the beef stew and then cooked on the griddle. This glowing orange oil is generously applied at Martin’s. (Some other birria tacos aren’t oily enough for our taste.) The grease adds a lot of flavor, but doesn’t coat the mouth unpleasantly once it is absorbed into the tortilla.
If you like the tortillas crunchy, you can request thems dorado (literally golden, but really meaning fried). The tortilla remains on the grill as long as you request, or as long as the chef has time for. It is loaded with shreds of stewed beef chopped off from a rump to order. The beef is then topped with broth, grease, onions, and cilantro. Salsa, lime and radish are applied at your discretion. With or without additions, each bite explodes with meat juices and oil from the stew.
Birria is classically served with a cup of consume. In goat birria the consume has a powerful goat flavor, but in birria de res, the spices come through stronger. The consume at Tacos Martin is especially excellent, rich with clove and cinnamon with just enough oil to thicken the broth. It was so good that we got a second cup. It’s a rare, but happy day when we drink more broth than coffee in the morning.
If you come with a large enough group, you can get a massive order of birria and make your own tacos with a stack of tortillas. Large families do that on the weekends. We like just getting tacos.