Chicago, Illinois – Birrieria Zaragoza (Best Mexican Goat Tacos)

Restaurant: Birrieria Zaragoza
Cuisine: Mexican/Tacos
Last visited: June 15, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Brighton Park/McKinley Park)
Address: 4852 S Pulaski Rd
Transit: Pulaski & 49th Street
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 6
Service: 5
Ambiance: 1.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Family owned & operated
  • Local “foodie” secret spot
  • Authentic Mexican
  • Specializes in goat/birria
  • Goat tacos only
  • House made salsa
  • House made tortillas
  • Hole in the wall
  • Hidden gem
  • Limited menu
  • Very casual
  • Budget friendly/cheap eats
  • Eat in/Take out
  • Catering available
  • Sun 8am-4pm
  • Mon-Fri 10am-7pm
  • Sat 8am-7pm

**Recommendations: Large Plate of Birria (8 oz.), Birria Tacos, Salsa (Fire Roasted), Consome, Aqua de Horchata

“The Best Goat Tacos in Chicago” had to be a hole in the wall restaurant in the middle of nowhere that locals don’t even really know about. It had “legit” and “FMF Must Try” all over it.

For a Vancouver reference, I felt like I was on Kingsway, and that’s if Kingsway was in New Westminster or Whalley. For a Chicago reference, as I already mentioned, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. It took quite the effort to get here and it seemed like a good 20 minutes outside of downtown Chicago. Take a taxi, they’re really fast and pretty affordable in Chicago.

Birrieria Zaragoza. I can’t even say the first half of the name properly and I’m just copying and pasting it every time it comes up on here. It’s out of the way if you’re in downtown, but if you’re a hardcore “foodie”, and by that I mean you are willing to travel for food and will make the time and effort to find “the best”, then you need to come here.

If you want an authentic, unique, and off the beaten path dining experience that only the “insiders” and “real foodies” know about, then you must try Birrieria Zaragoza whether you’re a tourist or a local.

This is not a place for ambiance. You come for one thing: the food… and to eat… and maybe to talk to the super friendly Zaragoza family who owns this small taco shop. Okay so that’s three things, but you get the point. There is no other reason you would really venture out to this part of town. It’s not dangerous, but it felt like a ghetto suburb and depending on how invested you are in food, you would consider the trek here either an adventure or a drag. Once you get here and try the food and meet the owners I’m sure you’ll think it was worth the effort.

Chefs and cooks at high end restaurants tend to love cheap eats and dives and I was recommended to try this place by the staff at Sepia. I was told it was where the “real foodies” go for “the best goat tacos”, which made it perfect for Follow Me Foodie to Chicago and it was very Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives appropriate too.

Birria is a spicy Mexican meat stew traditionally made from goat and Zaragoza is the last name of the family that brought the recipe to Chicago from Mexico. It’s a recipe that originated in Jalisco and the father learned the recipe and techniques from a master birriero who runs a famous birria restaurant (birriería) in Jalisco. Birrieria Zaragoza specializes in one thing only and that’s goat tacos. The goat requires a lot of time to prepare and cook and they go through over 22 young goats in a weekend.

It’s a family owned and operated restaurant and everything is made in house including the tortillas. I actually chatted with the son and acting chef at the restaurant Jonathan (pictured with the butcher knife) and it turns out that he used to be a cook at Sepia. Ah! Now that makes sense! That’s why they all come here! That discovery doesn’t change anything though because the food speaks for itself.

Being from Vancouver, BC I don’t get much authentic Mexican food and this was my first time trying a birria restaurant. I don’t have anything to compare to, but learning about the history and watching the operation felt like an authentic experience. After researching a bit more on birria there are places serving it more authentically and perhaps even better in Los Angeles and of course Mexico. However as a first time experience I was still very impressed with the ones here and it was a solid introduction to birria. The place has passion and heart and it was the full experience that made it unforgettable and I’m happy to support this family business.

On the table:

Sangría Señorial3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • $2
  • It’s a non-alcoholic Sangria flavoured Mexican soda and it’s sweetened with cane sugar, although sweet I didn’t find it overly sweet or syrupy.
  • It’s made with red wine grapes and a bit of lemon and I liked it better that grape soda which is too artificial for me.
  • It’s a popular drink in Mexico and as a non-alcoholic Sangria it was good!

**Aqua de Horchata4/6 (Very good)

  • $2
  • I love horchata. It’s a sweetened cinnamon rice milk with a hint of vanilla. It’s perfect with spicy Mexican food and neutralizes the heat.
  • Some places will add cocoa powder, condensed milk, and/or milk made from boiled down nuts and sesame seeds, but this one didn’t have any of the above.
  • It’s not a milkshake or thick creamy drink, but it’s a chilled smooth rice milk.
  • The horchata was house made with Mexican cinnamon and vanilla extract which were noticeable, but not strong.
  • It was simple and traditional Mexican style horchata and it wasn’t too sweet.
  • I do like the ones with boiled almonds and sesame seed milk, but this was still very good although it wasn’t served very cold.

I started with the salsa and already I was impressed! I mean just look at it! Look!

How many “taco shops” have you been to that give you salsa that looks as fresh and as good as this!?

And no wonder because this is how they make it! The old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle!

**Salsa (Fire Roasted) 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • $3.75
  • There are many people that come here just to purchase the fire roasted salsa to go. You get a huge bowl and it’s totally worth it!
  • It’s a very hearty and chunky house made cooked salsa made from fire roasted whole tomatoes.
  • There was no smoky or charred flavour which I wouldn’t have minded a bit of, but the skins were included and the tomatoes were plump and juicy.
  • There was a good acidity and home cooked flavours and it wasn’t oily or heavily spiced, although there were spices in it.
  • It just seemed so natural in flavours with perhaps some onions and garlic, but it really let the tomatoes shine and I could eat it alone.

Cheese Quesadillas3/6 (Good)

  • $2
  • This is an authentic Mexican cheese quesadilla.
  • It was probably smaller than a McDonald’s hamburger patty and it’s served plain and simple.
  • The corn tortillas are hand made upon order and they were nice and chewy, but a bit thicker than I prefer.
  • It was filled with I think an Oaxaca cheese which is a mild Mexican cheese that is slightly salty and similar to a mozzarella cheese.
  • I ate this with the salsa and it was what it was and fine, but not what you come for.

This is what you come for. The meat is selected and hand chopped upon order and the consommé is poured on top right before serving.

They asked if I wanted the bone… ummm yes please! Get the bone with the marrow though and not just any bone. I think I got the shoulder meat and you can ask for the shank or ribs too, but I didn’t know that beforehand. Some birria restaurants offer a variety of parts on one plate, but for a small family operation like this, you get what you ask for or what’s still available.

They don’t serve the heart, head or other delicious and edible parts of the goat (offal), but I read on that Jonathan once created a “chorizo-stuffed goat heart special with avocado-poblano sauce” and that I really wanted to try!

**Large Plate of Birria (8 oz.)6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • $10.50
  • Again, this is my first birria goat taco experience so it could get more “authentic” and even better, but I still thought it was fantastic!
  • It came with 6 small hand pressed corn tortillas hot from the grill.
  • They were soft and tender white corn tortillas instead of the firmer yellow ones, which is authentically how tacos are served in Mexico too.
  • They were a bit thicker than I prefer and chewy more so than light and fluffy, but fresh and still delicious.

**Birria6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • I think I had the shoulder, but again you can make requests for other parts of the goat.
  • Originally the goat is wrapped in agave leaves and slow roasted over an open fire pit, but nowadays ovens replace the fire pits.
  • Here, the goat is rubbed down with kosher salt, steamed and cooked on the bone for 6 hours.
  • The parts are then marinated in an ancho-based red mole and roasted in the oven until the meat is almost falling off the bone.
  • It would be amazing if they had a forno oven, but they work with the equipment they have.
  • Although it didn’t have that fire roasted char grilled smoky flavour, it was still amazing!
  • The meat was incredibly well infused with warm spices, salty and earthy flavours, but it wasn’t too salty, oily or greasy either.
  • It was melt in your mouth tender goat meat and it wasn’t even gamey, but it still had goat flavour which is comparable to lamb.
  • The fat was well marbelized keeping the meat moist and each shred of meat was so well marinated and super juicy especially with the consommé poured over top.
  • The goat just absorbed all the sauce and flavours and it was sweet, tangy, savoury, well seasoned and slightly spicy.
  • It was well prepared and executed meat and the plate is thoroughly enjoyable even without the tortillas.

These are the traditional condiments served with the goat tacos. There were fresh lime wedges, freshly chopped cilantro, dried Mexican chilies, raw onions and house made Mexican hot sauce. The hot sauce was flavourful and not just hot. I would buy that in a bottle.

So there are 2 ways to eat a Mexican goat taco:

1) Eat it like you would Indian food. Treat the the tortilla like naan and peel it into smaller pieces and use it to pick up the goat with.

2) Make a traditional taco and dip it in the consommé served on the side (extra order) before each bite.

**Consommé6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Sm. $2.50, Med $3.50 and Lg $6.50
  • You want a bowl of this! This was actually as good as the goat for me. I loved it!
  • Many places don’t make their own, but they do here and it’s a healthier version than the original.
  • Usually it’s made with meat drippings, but this one isn’t so it’s not as rich, oily or hearty and you can easily have it alone as soup.
  • It was served hot and it’s a tomato consommé and they called it a “tomato water”, but it’s not watery and so much more than that.
  • It’s made from garlic, white wine, 13 spices and a bit of goat fat for that intense umami flavour.
  • It was sweet, tangy and savoury, but not salty and the tomatoes were boiled for 2 hours and the flavours incredibly well infused.
  • The texture of the broth was clean and light and there was so much depth and layers of flavour without being greasy.
  • I could taste cumin, coriander, paprika, ancho chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and other warm spices.
  • There was some heat, but it wasn’t spicy and I think there was some lime juice for a nice acidity and it just brightened up the dish and made all the spices come alive.

Make sure you ask for the bone with the marrow in it. Also ask for the pick so you can scoop out the marrow and eat it with your birria or goat taco! One of my favourites and it’s pure decadence.


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