I am having a quesabirria, left-over from lunch yesterday. The addictive smell fills the whole house. Crunchy, limey corn tortilla, savory simmered meat, so many spices I cannot identify them all. I am blown away again by the happiness in my mouth. It tastes like a cross between my grandma’s best slow roasted pot roast and a Mexican spice flavor fiesta, crunchy, savory, satisfying on so many levels.  My partner and I love exploring Mexico, eating Mexican food, and meeting Mexican people. We decided to go on a quest for the best birria in Puerto Peñasco. It has been a wonderful adventure realizing how many birrierias there are here in our little beach town.

We started asking local friends about birria after a Sonoran Native friend visiting asked us for a recommendation to the best birria in Peñasco. We had no idea even what birria was! Boy were we in for a pleasant surprise. Hands down birria is amazing Mexican food! Inquiring of locals and expat alike, we have been steered to many wonderful establishments ensconced in the aromas of the distinctive flavor profile of the succulent meat roasting in bone broth and spices. Even the names of the most popular birrierias in Peñasco are a cornucopia of atmospheres, tastes, and presentations. We checked out ones from simple taqueria huts to a mesquite tree oasis. Visiting Los Mezquites, El Gallero, Los Ceboyos, El Chon, Sinaloa Ahome, La Guasavena and El Ceboyo, we now know birria a little better and know much more research is in order.

An internet search on the origins of birria is quite interesting. The word “birria” comes from an old Spanish word meaning something of “bad quality and little value”. That is confusing to us, as this stuff is amazing. Come to find out it was the Spaniards that brought goats to Mexico during the conquest of the Americas in the 1500’s and decided they did not favor the tough, gamey meat so they gave the goats to the local native people. The locals cooked the meat in their traditional slow cooking methods with a myriad of spices. Birria as we know it today found its origins in the Mexican State of Jalisco. Enterprising Mexican chefs have taken birria all over Mexico and the US and now cook goat “cabrito”, beef “rez” and sheep “chivo” as the savory meat that was once considered of little value.

We checked out 7 birrierias, try to say that fast, out of the multitude of birria restaurants here in Peñasco. They each had their own variations on the basic slow cooked, savory meat simmered in a rich broth with an amazing array of chilies and spices. For my taste, I personally like the quesabirria, birria layered with local cheese grilled in between a handmade corn tortilla at Los Mezquites for its fresh, house made limey corn tortillas. Interestingly, I have learned that maize tortillas made with masa laced with lime, like those at Los Mezquites, actually helps bind calcium within bones. Something I surely need. My partner prefers the spice blend at El Chon, a family recipe brought from Colima by abuela “Chon” 34 years ago.  The tradition goes on today with 4 generations of his family cooking, serving, and sharing stories. Local friends alternatively choose Sinaloa Ahome and La Guasavena for their unique flavor profiles as their birrieria of choice. Each of these local eateries serves up bowls of steaming meat alongside heaping servings of cabbage, onion, cilantro, limes, fresh tortillas and their own secret recipe chili arbol hot sauce and of course a cup of the flavorful broth for dipping.

Over the course of our explorations of birria recipes the dedicated cooks have shared snippets of their secret recipes, mentioning so many varieties of chili peppers including pasilla, arbol, Colorado, chipotle, ancho, and guajillo peppers along with personal choices of chocolate, paprika, cloves, cumin, bay leaves, garlic, Mexican oregano, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, vinegar, tomatoes and onions!

Another interesting note if you are heading out for a bowl laden with the long simmering meat in savory broth, all of the local birrierias we talked to start cooking at 3 am, opening for business around 6 am and closing around noon. It is a breakfast and early lunch thing. A wonderful food adventure to check out for yourself. What is your favorite local birrieria?