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‘Birria Pa La Cruda’ is a One-Day Only Taco Stand in El Sereno That Will Annihilate Any Hangover

12:02 PM PDT on October 15, 2019

    [dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles has reached peak birria. 

    There is seemingly a new beef birria taquero popping-up in every corner of the city every other month. Nonetheless, in a saturated birriascape, Birria Pa La Cruda, the newest Sunday-only street operation at the bottom a hill in El Sereno, stands out. 

    On a lazy Sunday afternoon at about 1 PM, the casual fine dining butcher-turned-birriero Carlos Jaquez who just turned 25 is beginning to scrape the bottom of his stockpot that is big enough to fit a small child. He ladles up a chunk of deep red, Choice-grade beef chuck, lays it on the cutting board, and partakes in the suspense-filled taquero drumroll of chopping up meat that always precedes the tense moments before you take that first bite of a new taco spot that was recommended to you. 

    He carefully packs the meat in a tortilla—from nearby Kernel of Truth Organics, a rare sight in street taco stands that usually use whatever tortillas—that is dipped in a concentrated container of thick consomé. The folded taco sizzles and steams, getting crispier by the second, and the suspense grows.

    Birria Pa La Cruda. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    But before that big first bite, there is a Styrofoam cup filled to the brim with Jaquez's consomé. It’s one of the more-complex tasting birria broths I’ve tasted in the city—not watered down like many tend to do in the name of stretching it out. It is almost ungodly thick, pleasantly tasting of charred chiles and spices if you can hang, each insanely savory sip possible of annihilating even the most stubborn hangovers, making sure the name of birria stand truly lives up to its name.

    His birria is not Tijuana-style and it is not Jalisco-style, it is strictly L.A.-style.

    “Cooking birria is a form of cultural resistance, it’s keeping our oral traditions alive through techniques, spices, and beef—a meat that is more common to these lands.” Strike up a conversation with Jaquez and things may get deep, as they often do when asking sons or daughters of immigrants about why they cook. A mix of the Chicano anthem “Suavecito,” Chalino Sanchez, and Rocksteady in español is bumping loudly from his truck donning a “Camaroneros de Nayarit” decal that he just bought from a tia for the business. His father is from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and his mother is mixed from the state of Washington. Jaquez proudly identifies himself as “a big mestizo who was raised Mexican with a lot of pride.”  

    “I’ve had this idea for a long time, but it wasn’t until my girlfriend Citlali pushed me to do it that I finally made it happen.” 

    Also read: These Are the 12 Best Birria de Res Tacos in Los Angeles Right Now

    Jaquez plates the tacos, crispy all-around, not just the edges. The beef is mostly lean, known as maciza in the taco world, and its flavor reflects the broth it was cooked in. His tacos possess that lauded voracity-inducing quality that only a good taco can demand; once you eat the tacos that are on your plate, you immediately want to order two more, then two more, then two more...until you realize—the hard way later in the day, or morning—that your craving is bigger than your stomach. 

    The flavor revelation suddenly makes sense when you find out that Jaquez has worked as a butcher at Otium in downtown in charge of breaking down Wagyu beef and dry-aging for about the last year, and that Birria Pa La Cruda is his passion project—as if the extremely physically and emotionally taxing schedule of a back-of-house restaurant worker wasn’t enough. 

    “A taco is only two things: meat and tortilla. Using Kernel of Truth Organic Tortillas and Choice-grade beef instead of Select, that is something I recognize and try to maintain.” 

    This also explains why Jaquez weighs everything out in grams and why he is perfectly content cutting his teeth on the hot, dusty El Sereno concrete, serving his nearby community where he grew up in on Sunday mornings. It also explains why he salts his pickled onions for six hours for a proper pickling process. All of these factors combine to make Jaque’s birria warrant that popular saying: “Only in L.A.” His birria is not Tijuana-style and it is not Jalisco-style, it is strictly L.A- style.

    “A taco is only two things: meat and tortilla. Using Kernel of Truth Organic Tortillas and Choice-grade beef instead of Select, that is something I recognize and try to maintain.” 

    Also read: ‘Birria Ramen’ Arrives in L.A.

    The conversation quickly turns to discuss the metaphysical quality of food, the double-standard against Mexican food, the unfair pay between front-of-house vs. back-of-house staff (“One of my server friends told me she claimed $60,000 in tips! I don’t even make that much a year!), why going to culinary school is not worth it, and gentrification. All topics that are fair game in today’s inevitable sociopolitical world of food, especially while blissed out in a taco-based euphoria of aggressive spices and chiles in a changing northeast region like El Sereno.

    “Why is it OK to pay almost $20 on a bowl of hummus at some fancy restaurants but not on a bowl of good refried beans? They’re beans too at the end of the day, and they’re not that different from each other.    

    Jaquez informs me that he just staged at Majordōmo the night before, and Bestia on Friday night, and that he just put in his two-week notice at Otium. But not to focus on Pa La Cruda like one would assume, but to accept a line cook position at Bestia—to continue learning his craft.  

    “Right now I just feel I need to be here. Birria Pa La Cruda is a taco stand, it’s not going to be a restaurant—at least not right now.”   

    He does have long-term dreams of building a Mexican restaurant group and opening up multiple businesses serving higher-quality versions of things like nieve, pan dulce, and a carniceria. “This is a big dream, but it's in the future.” 

    His next immediate project? To make a lamb birria. 

    “I like borrego.”   

    Editor's note: Shout to the old-school Psychobilly homie Frijol” who first alerted L.A. Taco of Birria Pa La Cruda, followed by our contributors Erick Huerta and Cesar Hernandez recommending it as well. All you foos were right. 

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