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Destination: Birrieria y Menuderia Guadalajara

Minimalism and the art of goat stew at a Chula Vista icon

“They started with a huge menu serving all kind of things,” explains Martin Miceis. “Then they decided it was too much so they reduced it to just four things and—”

Miceis makes a rocket motion with his hands and looks up toward the ceiling, watching his hand rocket shoot to the heavens. Those four things—birria, menudo, pozole, and tacos—made lines form around Birrieria y Menuderia Guadalajara in Chula Vista.

I understand it. It’s the In-N-Out model to restaurant success. As a famous person who’s fallen from grace in a terrible way so I’m not going to mention his name in print anymore once said, “I don’t know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Napoleon lost it all by trying to do it all (i.e., conquer Russia in the winter).

In my hunt for the county’s best birria, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Chula Vista. Though within San Diego County, CV is its own city, the seventh largest in California (top-75 in the country), and it vibrates with Mexican-American culture. Cars with great speakers play Latin pop music, mariscos (seafood) food trucks cram all kinds of open spaces, auto body shops seem to all compete to see who can come up with the zaniest muffler sculpture. The city doesn’t bore businesses into submission, lets them use whatever color paint they want or have on hand. The result is a city that really pops.

BYM Guadalajara is one of its stars. You can smell why as soon as you enter the modest restaurant on the corner of Broadway and G Streets. The air is an intoxicating sauna of stews that have been slowly burbling for hours, infusing the room with the world’s original (and greatest) air freshener.

If you’re expecting plant walls or ostrich lamps or Restoration Hardware catalogue shrapnel, well, some expectations should remain unmet. It’s a modest, orange-walled, functional restaurant with a few Etsy-ish chalkboards and a single TV always that I believe is unable to play anything but soccer. Hope you like soccer. If you don’t, you’ll like the stews. If you don’t like the stews, there’s a problem with you.

The only art that matters is the dark brown bowl of birria de chivo. Chivo (goat) is the way birria was originally done—goats ate the natives’ crops, so the natives made stew of the goats. And it (or lamb) really is the best protein for the stew. The base of birria is adobo seasoning, which is potent with chiles and seasonings, and goat has the deliciously primal funk to not get lost in the flavor riot. Their birria de res (beef) is also good, just doesn’t blow your socks off like the chivo does.

To generate the most flavor, BYM includes bones and lengua (tongue). If you’re scared off by tongue, there’s not much I can do but pray for you. Aside from being a more holistic, responsible-human approach to eating (eat the whole animal, not just the westernized sexy parts), lengua lends fat and collagen that make the consomme (broth) luxurious and satiny. Plus, tongue is high in vitamin B12 and you’re looking a little tepid. Just pick out the pieces of bones and pile them on a napkin. This soup’s not shy and neither should you be.

Eat the stew straight, or pile some of the meat into the corn tortillas, add cilantro, chopped onions, hot sauce (it’s Mexican-hot), a squirt of lime, and—most importantly—drizzle with the broth.

You’ll get out of here for less than the cost of a Negroni in Little Italy, and they’re only open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., but that birria may just keep you full through dinner.

Birrieria y Menuderia Guadalajara, 396 Broadway, Chula Vista. 8am-4pm. 

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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