Got beef with birria? Let Birrieria Tijuana change your mind

click to enlarge Got beef with birria? Let Birrieria Tijuana change your mind
Young Kwak photo
Caldo de birria is tender meat with rich consommé.

In case you've missed the two-billion-view trend on TikTok, a new Mexican dish is on the scene. Birria, a popular breakfast item from Jalisco-turned-social media phenomenon, has been making the internet hungry since 2018.

Now, hungry Spokanites have their own restaurant dedicated completely to birria, Fredy Zavala's newest location of Birrieria Tijuana on north Hamilton Street.

Most traditionally, birria is goat meat simmered in a vat of chiles and spices until its juices create a thick consommé. This hot broth continues to cook the meat until it falls off the bone, shredding itself in the process. The meat, spices and broth are eaten together as a comforting stew.

Historically, as birria traveled north through Mexico, it was transformed. Street vendors in Tijuana swapped out the goat meat to make a cheaper Tijuana-style birria de res (beef birria). They put it in tortillas to make portable birria tacos.

When a few entrepreneurs brought their new creation to Los Angeles, they added cheese to satisfy American palates. These vendors always saved the magical, deep red broth to eat with the tacos. At some point, they started saturating tacos in the consommé and frying them.

But customers still couldn't get enough, so they dipped the crispy tacos back into the marinade before taking a bite. The chile-infused jus dripping down hot cheese begged for slow motion.

The first mention of #birria on social media was four years ago. Today, over 200 Los Angeles restaurants have reviews of their birria on Yelp. Some are Mexican restaurants offering birria alongside other options, while some are birrierias, eateries specifically dedicated to birria the way a pizzeria is devoted to pizza.

You don't need to travel 1,200 miles to Los Angeles to join this tasty trend, since you can pop into Zavala's birrieria right here in Spokane.

Three years ago, Zavala was selling street tacos in Los Angeles Friday to Sunday, from the evening into the wee morning hours. In a weekend, he could sell 7,000 tacos. But he was a hard worker and wanted to sell something in the morning, too. So he started serving birria tacos to local Latinos. His birria was such a hit that people would drive an hour to his taco stand. They affectionately called him "El Birrias."

Despite the fame and success, Zavala decided Los Angeles was oversaturated with birria. Friends told him that Seattle, farther from the border and filled with foodies, had much more opportunity. So Zavala headed north to open his first Birrieria Tijuana in Western Washington. Right away, crowds flocked to the sultry tortillas stuffed with beef and cheese.

Zavala has since expanded Birrieria Tijuana to eight locations across Washington, including Spokane in June 2022.

"I brought something different to this state," Zavala says.

He's seen all different kinds of people flock to his birrierias, and says most of his customers are not Mexican.

Birrieria Tijuana's menu offers birria in all forms. Grab a taco for $3, or $4 if you want it with cheese. The birria meat itself in both the soft and crunchy tacos is dry, so make sure to get a bowl of consommé ($4) on the side for dipping.

Other traditional dishes include tortas ($12), burritos ($13) and quesadillas ($14). More inventive ways to eat birria are also offered, like birria pizza ($22) or birria ramen ($14). And although birria is the star, the birrieria also offers chicken, pork, steak and veggie versions of any dish.

A self-serve condiment bar offers cucumbers, cilantro, onions, red and green salsas, plus limes. Toppings are simple and light to offset the rich protein.

Plastic jugs of drinks line the counter: horchata (a rice-based drink that tastes like a cinnamon bun over ice), strawberry milk, plus mango, guava and lime juice. A fridge sits just behind the fresh beverages, filled with Jarritos, a favorite Mexican soda.

click to enlarge Got beef with birria? Let Birrieria Tijuana change your mind
Young Kwak photo
Cheese tacos oozing with flavor.

The setting is not a hip Los Angeles dining experience or a subway-tiled Insta post. The walls are the same chile red as the hot birria broth. Plastic tables and vinyl chairs make it easy to wipe down the joyful mess of gooey tacos. Multicolored Christmas lights, pulsing between purple, green and yellow, frame the view of the parking lot and the road.

But Zavala has little interest in throwing money at unnecessary frills. He'd rather spoil the community with generous service.

"When you support my business, I support your community," Zavala says. The past two Christmases, Zavala says he spent over $20,000 on toys and presents for children near his restaurants. Zavala intends to be on "good terms with God and with customers."

He also intends to be there for hungry customers when no one else is.

"Everything closes so early in Spokane!" Zavala says. He's hoping to change his hours to be open at least until midnight all week.

Birria changed Zavala's life, paving the way for his American dream, he says. And even though he owns a growing chain of restaurants, he still cooks, cleans, washes dishes and buses his tables anytime he's in the kitchen.

His dedication to his food is rivaled only by his customers' devotion. Birrieria Tijuana restaurants across the state prove that birria's popularity is resilient to fickle, posh trends. At first, each new Birrieria Tijuana gains attention for introducing a new food in town. But they stay open because people keep coming back for more. And even though Zavala sees over 300 pounds of meat a day, he still thinks his tacos are delicious.

"They're not going anywhere now!" he says, noting that he's looking to open a Spokane Valley location later this year.

The people who come to Birrieria Tijuana come for good food, not social media opportunities. Birria may have garnered explosive fame from hangry teenagers on TikTok, but this food has made it through the hype. It's here to stay. ♦

Birrieria Tijuana • 2018 N. Hamilton St. • Open daily 9 am-9 pm • facebook.com/ birrieriatijuanawa • 509-487-7700

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