The fever started in L.A. Then, with a boost last month from Eric Asimov in the New York Times, it became a frenzy.
I’m talking about birria. And you’re excused if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Because birria may be, not only the most unrecognized, but also the most unknown heavyweight champion of Mexican cuisine. I didn’t have my first birria until a few years ago and I’ve been coming to Mexico a lot more years than a few. And in those early years, it was almost always to Jalisco, the home of birria (with the occasional and perhaps irrational argument from a few other Mexican states).
So what is birria? It’s a stew, traditionally a goat stew. The origin of the dish is, in fact, one of the better folk tales of Mexico. In Celebrating Latin Folklore, Maria Herrera Sobek says, “…legend has it, the dish was invented by accident during the eruption of a volcano, when a shepherd was forced to abandon his goats in a cave only to return a few days later to find that the heat of the lava and the steam from the humidity in the cave had cooked them so perfectly, leaving the meat tender and the skin crunchy. In face of this tragedy, he had the idea of collecting the meat and adding some hot sauce, thus creating the dish.”
The birria that’s now the darling of Instagrammers and TikTokers is not usually a goat stew. It’s usually a beef stew and occasionally a lamb or pork stew. There is even a chicken birria available in San Miguel (though I apologize for not sampling it yet).
The food porn on Instagram and the recipe righters on TikTok have also gone far beyond birria, the stew. You’ll find tacos, tostados, sopes and quesadillas of course. But you’ll also find birria ramen, birria pizza, birria pho and, ouch, birria waffles.
I first became a recreational birria eater when I became intrigued by six big red letters at a little stand down on Calzada de la Estacion. There, an ever-smiling guy called Martin had a cart that used to welcome new arrivals off the bus from Guadalajara with their first hit of home.
Then, about seven years ago, a guy called Alejandro Hernandez Diez, who owned a mini chain of birria restaurants, opened Birria Jalisco on the west side of Salida a Celaya. With an assist to a dish called karne en su jugo, I became a birriaholic.
The same birria de res that Birria Xalisco served is still available in San Miguel de Allende, still on Salida a Celaya, but now on the other side of the street, now called La Milagrosa, and now owned by Alejandro Diez’ friend, Karina Beltrán.
These days, there are now three other birria de res restaurants in San Miguel but La Milagrosa remains my favorite. There are three reasons why. Thirdly, it’s because of location and the restaurant’s proximity to favorite shopping places Luna de Queso, Panio and Mercado Sano. Secondly, it’s because La Milagrosa is available on Uber Eats. And primarily, it’s because I think it’s the beefiest and, therefore, the best birria in town.
There are a few parts of the cow that have that deep, rich, savoriness. There are the cheeks, the shanks, the short ribs, and what I once guessed La Milagrosa’s birria was made of, oxtail. But I was wrong.
“It’s pescuezo”, said Karina Beltran. “Pescuezo”. Do I know that word. Perhaps from a cow’s nether-regions. Sounded more like a fish. Karina pointed at her neck.
“Cuello?”, I asked.
“Sí, cuello pero lo llamamos pescuezo,” Karina replied and typed “pescuezo” into her phone and showed me the screen so this bumbling expat wouldn’t Spanglicize the word.
I was more than a little shocked by La Milagrosa’s chef, Alan Eduardo Rivera Huerta, using the neck. Though I’d seen neck on butcher’s parts charts including the one at El 17 where I’d just bought a magnificently marbled brisket. I’d always thought the neck was reserved for those named Fido, Spot, Rex or Duke.
Alan took me into the kitchen and opened the lid on a giant stock pot for me to see pescuezo de res in all it’s glory, after it’s many hours of braising. I could also see that fall-apart texture that it shares with short ribs.
“And what else makes your birria so rich in taste?”, I asked, Karina and Alan.
At the top of the list were chiles guajillo and ancho, plus pimienta, cumin, oregano and bay leaves.
You can order La Milagrosa’s birria de rez in three sizes: small, medium or large. For lunch, I’d suggest the small. For dinner and only 20 pesos more, I’d suggest the large. I then squeeze in the juice from half a lime and top it with chopped onions and cilantro. But I never venture near the very innocent looking brown salsa as it’s made from chile de arbol and is only for those with far more rugged palates than mine.
Dipping the tortillas into the stew, forking the meat on them, and getting them to your mouth without juice all down your shirt is a bit of an art. As is drinking the last drizzles of the juice directly from the cazuela.
If that bowl of birria sounds a bit much and you’re just wandering by and feeling peckish (as I often am), you can simply nip in and carry out a single birria taco (or two) at one of the town’s best bargain prices of 21 pesos. But again, never without a napkin.
From the street, La Milagrosa looks rather foreboding to the covid cautious. Walk through the simple premises though and you’ll discover a pleasant patio in the back.
And if you put your birria experience on Instagram, please send me a link.
La Milagrosa Birria Xalisco is located at Salida a Celaya #26 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day but Tuesday. You can find their menu on the cover photo of their Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/OmarSolis1988/photos/a.250923812165497/633286167262591/?type=3&source=44. You can also order from La Milagrosa via Uber Eats.