Birria taco craze reaches Pensacola. Here's who sells them, how they're made and more
- Hailing from Jalisco, Mexico, birria tacos are made of shredded meat stew - usually cow, or goat meat - and consomé.
- Taco Rock, Tacos Mexicanos and Lupita’s Mexican Kitchen all offer their own takes of the birria taco.
Have you had a birria taco? Have you heard of a birria taco?
Birria is a word that likely wasn't in the vocabulary of many Pensacola foodies a year or two ago, but birria has now quickly become a weekly must-have for a lot of those food lovers.
The national hype surrounding the birria taco has definitely localized: The demand is so great in Pensacola that birria tacos have elbowed their way to the top of menus at some of the city's favorite authentic Mexican spots.
After all, what's not to like about a fried, cheesy taco dipped in the broth it's cooked in?
"I think it was like January and February when we started it, and, personally, I don't like to hop on trends, but it got to the point where we had no choice but to add birria tacos to the menu," said Gabriel Hernandez, owner of the Tacos Mexicanos food trucks in East Hill and downtown Pensacola. "People were calling us every day saying, 'Hey, do y'all serve the dipping tacos?' Or they'd mispronounce it, but that's OK, everyone seems to pronounce it a different way. Every day, people were calling us 10 times a day. So finally we were like, 'Alright. We can make it.'"
What is birria?
Hailing from the Mexican state of Jalisco, birria (here is how to correctly pronounce it) is a Mexican shredded meat stew. Much like barbecue is in the South, birria can be a point of contention among those who make it and how they prepare it. Depending on the region, authentic birria is made with cuts of cow — like the leg or the cheek — or goat meat.
"It has a ton of flavor," Hernandez said. "You just kind of, traditionally, spoon the broth maybe over some tortillas. Birria was always a beef broth with not a lot of meat in it. Like a red beef broth."
Hernandez said he thinks the Americanization of the dish — which now almost always involves adding melted cheese to the shredded beef mixture — originated in California.
"Over here, it seemed like it happened in California. I saw people start making it the way we know it now. It's exactly how we make it," he said. "When people talk about it now, they're referring to it specifically as the corn tortillas with the birria meat in them and a little side of the broth."
That little broth on the side is called consomé, and it's at the heart of what makes modern day birria tacos so irresistible.
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"I've heard people call it, 'diesel fuel' or 'diesel fuel juice,'" said Margery Agudelo, with Lupita's Mexican Kitchen on Pensacola Boulevard. "People are so addicted to the consomé."
The consomé is the broth that the birria meat has been simmering in for hours. Slow simmered for as little as three hours to as long as 12 or 13 hours, the broth is made up of cow fat renderings, spices and dried out Mexican dry peppers.
The consomé factor is arguably what makes birria tacos so popular. Their dippable nature is so crucial to the birria taco experience that some people just outright refer to them as "dipping tacos" or "cheesy dipping tacos."
"People love dipping things here. It's understandable," Hernandez said. "Anything you can dip, people love."
How do Pensacola restaurants make birria tacos?
As noted above, the cut of beef the birria is made from plays a major role in the final outcome. Even in Pensacola, everyone makes them a little bit differently.
At Taco Rock on Pensacola Boulevard, owner Odette Diaz makes her birria with cow cheek.
"We put cheese in there and kind of fold them like a quesadilla, but they're tacos," said Diaz, who claims to be the first to bring birria to Pensacola more than three years ago. "You add the meat, you add the cheese, you fry the tortilla a little bit to make them crispy. Then you put the consomé on the side. We call ours 'cheesy dipping tacos,' because a lot of people, they can't pronounce 'birria,' so we said, 'OK, let's make it easy for them.'"
Lupita's, which has brick-and-mortar restaurants on Pensacola Boulevard and Pine Forest Road and a food truck on North Davis Highway, uses top round as their birria meat.
Tacos Mexicanos Kitchen Manager Gabriel Lupe is in charge of the birria at Hernandez's two restaurants, a process that gets started every Monday night. Unlike at Lupita's and Taco Rock, Tacos Mexicanos serves birria tacos as a Tuesday-only special.
"We use a mix of cheek and knuckle, but it's kind of like top round, it's very lean," Hernandez said, of his kitchen's preference. "The cheek has a slightly gamey flavor. But we already use a lot of cheek in our recipes because it has that unique flavor. Any kind of head meat in there is going to enhance the boldness of the flavor. That's why we use a mix of cheek and the lean meat."
The amount of time invested in the cooking process is another major element that plays a big part in the final product.
"The meat is cooked for so long, like eight hours for us, so it gives it that extra juice," said Agudelo, with Lupita's. "Once the spices and chiles are added in, it's just so good. I have no words for it."
Lupita's typically cooks its birria for three to four hours. The demand for their brand of birria has been so overwhelming that Lupita's basically added a whole birria section to their menu.
"We do birria burritos, birria quesadillas and birria tortas now, along with the birria tacos," Agudelo said Friday. "We started our (tacos) at our Pine Forest location and this weekend actually marks a year. People have been ordering them non-stop ever since."
At Tacos Mexicanos, Hernandez said his birria broth will cook for at least 12 hours on simmer.
"You really can't replace time, you can't rush some things," Hernandez said. "When we do these big batches, it's all about being patient. Do a slow simmer, break everything down. There's absolutely nothing you can do to rush it. Just wait it out."
Who sells birria tacos in Pensacola and how much do they cost?
The cooks and chefs behind one of the city's most sought-after dishes might not rush to make their birria, but folks are certainly rushing to get their hands on them. Here's where you can find them and how much they'll cost you:
Address: 5454 Pensacola Blvd.
Taco Rock sells their birria tacos in quantities of four, along with consomé, for $13.99. On Tuesdays, that same birria taco order is on special for $12.99.
Address: 3000 N. 12th Ave. (East Hill) and 50 E. Garden St. (downtown)
Phone: 850-291-7195 (East Hill) and 850-530-2594 (downtown)
Birria tacos, sold only on Tuesdays at Tacos Mexicanos, cost $8 for an order of three tacos and consomé.
Lupita's Mexican Kitchen
Address: 6890 Pensacola Blvd., 8620 Pine Forest Road, 7815 N. Davis Highway.
Phone: 850-857-8920 (Pensacola Boulevard); 850-454-9941 (Pine Forest); 850-341-5718 (North Davis).
An order of birria tacos, birria tortas or birria burritos with consomé all cost $12. A birria quesadilla at Lupita's costs $10.
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.